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Steve Hartman Loves Sports. The Rest Is Just Crap

“I think that goals can work for certain people. I think people are motivated by them. But personally it’s not my deal. My only goal from a career standpoint is to work in sports as long as I can.”

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We often hear about athletes that maximize their talent and ability. Not only has sports broadcaster Steve Hartman gotten everything out of his talent and ability, he has also maximized his time. For the past 20 years, he’s been working seven days a week. Let that wash over you for a minute. Over a 20-year span, Bill Belichick’s “no days off” chant would be a great description for the bulk of Steve’s career.

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Take a deep breath and try not to feel fatigued just by reading about Steve Hartman’s workload. Each Monday through Friday from 3-6pm, Steve hosts the Loose Cannons on XTRA 1360 FOX Sports San Diego along with Rich Ohrnberger and John Schaeffer. Steve hosts national shows for FOX Sports Radio from 10am-1pm PT on Saturdays and from 10am-2pm each Sunday. But wait there’s more — Steve also serves as a television sports anchor each Saturday and Sunday evening for KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. I could at least use a power nap after typing up that massive schedule.

Steve shares some of his insightful philosophies in the interview below. His thoughts about amplifying radio partners and making sure they shine the brightest is brilliant. He also talks about his most valuable asset, which would benefit mostly everybody reading this piece. Steve shares some radio stories that are legitimately outstanding. The story about a $24,000 check is funny, but the absolutely crazy tale of Steve channeling his inner Andrew Dice Clay on the air in full f-bomb mode is legendary. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Working the amount that you do — legendary might be going too far, but it’s well known within the business — why do you feel the need to have such a heavy workload?

Steve Hartman: Well I tell you what, Brian, originally when I expanded in 1998 — I was just doing my normal Monday through Friday radio show — I got offered an opportunity to do weekend television. I was in San Diego and was offered a weekend television job in L.A. I had two young boys at the time. I was doing the economics. I could make more money doing two days of weekend television than my wife with two babies at home could probably make on a full-time job. That’s how it started.

As time has gone on basically trying to explain this to people my first thought is what we do — at least from my standpoint, everyone has a different opinion — is not exactly working. I don’t want to completely downplay it because obviously I’ve been doing radio for 30 years and television for over 20 years. There is a certain skill set that obviously is acquired over time. But we’re really doing — or at least I’m doing — my vocation is my avocation.

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On the weekends for instance, I’m sitting there watching football games, which I’d probably be doing sitting at home anyway, except I’m getting paid to do it and talk about the games. It’s more of having something to do every day, being accountable every day. I’m 61 now. It defies logic. My father retired at 63 and passed away a year ago at age 89. My grandfather — my dad’s dad — retired at 62 and lived to be 97. They had the long retirements. But I don’t really look at it that way. I feel like working every day keeps me sharp, keeps me focused, and gives me something to do every single day. At this point in my career, that’s pretty much why I do it.

Noe: What do you think you would do if the same situation at The Mighty 1090 happened at your station and they were like, “Hey man, sorry, no station. You’ve got no weekday show.” Would you look for another gig, or just say that’s that?

Steve: That’s a good question. My general attitude now is that my current situation with my San Diego show, my network radio, and my television work, they’re really three separate entities. If any one of them should stop — again depending on the finances and everything else — I don’t know at this point if I would actually seek to replace. I say that now, but as you know in this business, Brian, my most valuable asset in my career has been saying yes. I just say yes.

Even going beyond yes, for instance, on the Sunday national show I requested to Scott Shapiro to take the shift. Originally he was hesitant, but the one thing he said — well two things, he was complimentary of my work — but more importantly he goes, “I know you’re going to be there every Sunday. You just don’t take any days off.” What do they say? The best ability is your availability. I’ve used that as sort of a motto throughout my career that if you hire me and I’m going to be there. Period.

It was very funny, when I got let go by the network at the end of 2013, when they blew up my show with Pat O’Brien and they pretty much cleaned house and sort of redid the national shows, it was the first time I’d ever been let go, ever, in my entire career. It was funny because my contract had two months left through the end of February 2014 and Annie Zidarevich called me and said that your last check is going to be a hard check. It’s going to include unused vacation pay.

I didn’t say anything because that didn’t sound right to me. I used to think it was like if you don’t use it, you lose it. I didn’t say anything. I just thought a couple extra $1,000 would be good. I got the check. I had over $24,000 in unused vacation. It was like wow, okay, maybe I should have taken a few more days off along the way. I don’t know if it’s so much about a work ethic as it is something that I just personally sort of need to keep me focused and stimulated to do something every day.

Noe: Take a baseball player that’s in the major leagues and then he gets designated for assignment and he’s in the minor leagues. You know how fans look at that, it’s like, “Aww man, you’re not in the majors anymore.”  When you go from a weekday national show to a weekday local show, there are people in the business that look at it the same way. How do you look at it?

Steve: I think that my situation in broadcasting is different than a lot of guys in the business, and that is I never sought to be in the business. I went to UCLA. I was sports editor of my college paper 40 years ago. When I got out of college you really had two choices. Newspapers were very prominent in those days, but I wanted to work in sports PR. I wanted to work for a team. I interviewed with the Dodgers, the Angels, the Rams, and got hired by the Los Angeles Raiders. They had just won the Super Bowl in 1984. I was 26 years old and I worked for the Raiders for four and a half years.

I hastily quit my Raider job because it was the ‘80s. I had seen the movie Wall Street one too many times. This guy convinced me that he was Gordon Gekko and I was going to be his Bud Fox and we were going to make a lot of money. I was 30 years old. I had asked for a raise from Mr. Davis. He said we were 5-10 this year. I’m thinking we were 5-10? I wasn’t the one that thought that Rusty Hilger was the second coming of Joe Namath. I got out of sports for exactly four months and quit that job because I realized I was a fish out of water.

I was looking for another PR job. In the meantime just to kill time, I was working as a sidekick on a radio show with a man named Bud Furillo, who is a mentor of mine, a longtime L.A. newspaper and radio guy. He was the one that got the call from John Lynch in San Diego about the idea of creating an all sports station after WFAN had launched in New York. Long story short, instead of hiring Bud because he wanted more money, they hired me instead. The rest was history.

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My attitude about my whole career is — people have had visions of my career that are different than my own visions. When 690 hit big in the mid ‘90s, I’m getting calls from everywhere. When ESPN launched their radio network Len Weiner called me. I knew Len from WFAN. He said I want you on national. I’m like, I’m not interested in national. I live in Southern California. I’m an L.A. guy. I live in San Diego. I go back and forth. So I turned down everything. I had no interest in doing national radio. I was forced into national radio.

When 690 blew open, they moved us up to L.A. I had a very successful L.A. show with Mychel Thompson and Vic the Brick. Without me even knowing, they dropped the bomb that we were going to switch to a national show. I didn’t want to do national. Eventually with Pat [O’Brien], even though I love Pat personally, it was an awful show. We were getting Talkers putting us as the #11 show and I’m thinking this is the worst show I’ve ever done.

I was honestly relieved when we got the plug pulled on the national show. When they came back to me and said, look Steve, we’ve been trying desperately to get this FOX affiliate in San Diego off the ground. I said I’m there. Simple as that. Certainly at this point, I know people look at San Diego like it’s got to be the worst sports city in America. They have a baseball team few people care about. Obviously we lost the NFL team. But it really allows me to do very much an open forum show because I know we have a lot of transplants, which makes Southern California always unique.

Honestly I’ve never really cared what other people thought about my career because from the very get-go — look, Jim Rome was my update guy. He was fiercely ambitious. I give him all the credit for the career that he created and the millions of dollars that he made. That just wasn’t me. I wasn’t that ambitious. People were more ambitious for me than I was for myself because the whole time I kept thinking are they really paying me to do this? Even 30 years in the business I’m sort of like let me get this straight, I get paid to talk sports. That to me just still blows my mind.

Noe: Keeping in mind that you think the show with Pat O’Brien is one of the worst shows you’ve ever done, what in your opinion are the ingredients of a good sports radio show and the ingredients of a bad one?

Steve: Well Brian — you can call it old school — I’m a sports guy. I talk sports. I’m not into popular culture. I mean I’ll go to the movies once in a while. That’s not why I’m there. My attitude is if you’re turning into a sports talk show, I want to hear sports. Even when I first broke into this business and I saw people creating shows, like creating characters on the air, I’m thinking to myself I can’t do that. Either this is going to work with me just talking sports or I’m just going to have to find another line of work. I just talk sports.

My frustration — Pat was a popular culture guy. Pat knew people. I love Pat dearly, but the problem was the network decided to put Pat in the lead seat. That I thought was a bad idea for Pat and it made it a very difficult show because I’m a sports guy. If I’m not sitting next to someone that I can talk sports with, that creates a problem for me. I want to be able to converse in sports.

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I can guarantee you this, Brian; no one has sat next to more people in the history of sports talk radio than I have. It is not even close. I’ve counted at least 80 people that I have co-hosted a show with over the course of my career. Some long-term, some not, but my ability to work with somebody else has always been based on — I want to know what they know, and then I will steer the conversation to what they’re comfortable talking about.

Dahntay Jones was a prime example. Dahntay only wanted to talk NBA, and more than that, he wanted to sort of be a de facto NBA general manager. The seven or eight shows we did together that’s all I did was let’s make a deal. Let’s work these deals and he was into it. He was breaking it down, making calls, and everything else. I try to play to the strength of my partners. If I can’t talk sports with the person I’m talking to, then why are we there? In my opinion it’s sports, talk, radio. The rest of it is just crap.

Noe: Who was the most talented co-host that you worked with?

Steve: Wow. That’s a really hard thing. My first Loose Cannon partner was Chet Forte. Chet was of course the legendary director/producer of Monday Night Football. Here I was trying to launch my career — and this guy was a novice in radio — but he was also a guy that when ABC got Monday Night Football in 1970, Roone Arledge told Chet, look, this game cannot sound or look like any other game. Ever.

Chet was so creative. It took me a while because we used to scream at each other on air. I literally thought this is a train wreck. Then the Union Tribune in San Diego wrote this glowing review of our show and I’m like are they listening to the same show I’m doing? It also gave me a sense that — basically what I try to do with my partners is just amplify who they are, then adjust myself to whatever their personality is.

As far as talent is concerned, I think there are insanely talented people throughout the business. I think you’re extremely talented. I love Ben [Maller]. I think Ben is a very talented guy at night. Some guys fit their slots really well. Then there are other people in the business that I think are just faking it. I can tell instantly who the real sports guy is and who the non-sports guy is. I won’t mention any names but there are some obviously very prominent people in our business that have a lot of notoriety and a lot of attention. I know they’re not really sports people. That’s okay. I don’t care. I prefer to be able to sit down and really talk to people that live it and breathe it. That’s just my personal preference.

Noe: Critiquing a co-host can be a delicate thing. You don’t really coach them up as if you’re a program director and give evaluations. You might have subtle ways of saying, “Hey, do more of that.” Do you ever find yourself nudging your co-hosts in subtle ways to help the show or help them improve?

Steve: Well going back to the beginning with Chet, I tried seriously to manipulate. We all try to do this to people in general to work into our world, and it just didn’t work. I don’t. I really don’t. I’m going to do a quick evaluation on who they are. My feeling is I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. Even if I am essentially the star of the show, I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. I’ve done this with every, single, person that I’ve ever worked with.

What happens is I think you build a trust. If you work long enough with someone, then you can push that trust. You can get personal. You can challenge them. But that comes with time. It’s like anyone else in your life. Sometimes I pushed it really to the max. I’ve had partners that were not comfortable with the back and forth and maybe conceded to me a little too easily. There are times when I sometimes will back off because I want to get more out of them.

You’re on a team. I’ve always said this to people; the easiest thing to do is a show by yourself. There’s no easier thing than sitting in there by yourself and talking — because there’s no challenge. You can say whatever you want to say. There’s no one challenging you. People say, “Oh well, it must be hard when you’re alone.” It’s just the opposite. When you’re by yourself it’s the easiest thing ever. What do you talk about? You can talk about whatever you want. But when you’re sitting with somebody and you’re in a team situation, you’re only as good as the team. If you think you’re doing great, but your partner isn’t doing well, guess what? The show’s not doing well. I always play to my partner. Always. And I will always do that.

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Noe: That’s a great philosophy. Is there a regret that you have in your career? If there’s any one thing you could change, would you change something in particular?

Steve: You know it’s interesting because there are times when I thought that maybe I made a wrong decision, but I don’t know if I have a shining light on me or whatever, but everything seems to turn out okay. I have zero regrets and again I have zero regrets because I went into the business with no expectations. I’ve never been a goal-oriented person. I never had any goals. I have just lived life. I don’t wake up thinking, all right where am I going to be a year from now, two years from now? I don’t ever think of those things.

When I work every day I’m just thinking about that day. I get up and I’m like, all right what do I have to do today? Let’s get it done. I turn the page, sleep well, and get ready for another day. So no, I think that ultimately I’m not talking about destiny — I’m not a huge believer in that — but it just seems like talking about my career, not my life, but just in my career that everything has just worked out the way I guess it was supposed to work out.

If I’m on Twitter — I rarely tweet — but occasionally if I tweet something that’s bringing up a negative situation in the L.A. market, there will be people saying, oh are you still alive? You know all this stuff. I don’t block anybody. I sort of laugh at the whole thing, but no, I really have no regrets. Honestly in my current situation if I could just maintain these three jobs for an indefinite period, I’d be the happiest guy around.

Noe: Do you think that goals can sometimes be a bad thing — that if you’re striving for something and not getting there that it can mess with your head?

Steve: Well it’s interesting now. I have three kids. My sons are 23, 21, and my daughter is 18. Obviously as a parent I think you want to make sure that they have a general idea of where they want to go. I was a stats kid. Everyone knows that I’m like this trivia guy — it’s not so much trivia — I’m a numbers guy. When I got my first pack of baseball cards when I was seven years old it was by accident. It said baseball bubble gum five cents. It looked like a big piece of gum and there were these cards. I didn’t know who the players were, but when I flipped the card over and saw all these columns of numbers, it was love at first sight. This is how my career went. Then I just started building, building, building on this.

When you talk about goals — I like to accomplish things. I’m more of a guy that has that to-do list and crossing things off. That’s more satisfying to me than setting a goal down the road. I think my goal has simply been this; if I can continue having a career in the world of sports in whatever manner — whether as a broadcaster, working for a team or anything — that was the only goal I had. Can I make a living in the world of sports? I’m not a former athlete. I’m just some dorky kid out of the Valley. Can I actually make a career in the sports world?

Fortunately for me to sort of be part of the ground floor of sports talk radio in the early ‘90s, it was fortune that I could never have imagined. Just a quirk, it was just a chance that I ever actually got into the business. I think that goals can work for certain people. I think people are motivated by them. But personally it’s not my deal. My only goal from a career standpoint is to work in sports as long as I can.

Noe: What’s your opinion about The Mighty 1090 in San Diego going away?

Steve: I’m never happy about people losing jobs. Let’s make that clear. People talk about competition and everything else — I wish there were 20 sports radio stations in L.A. and San Diego — the more opportunities for everyone else. There are so many people that want jobs. I thought it was terrible, but it was also something I saw coming. When I got let go by the network and I was sort of just taking a look at the landscape before I ended up at FOX San Diego. 1090 was there, but I knew they were a house of cards. I knew they hadn’t paid their bills for years.

They have the same dilemma we had with the old 690. We had that blowtorch signal out of Mexico, which made us the super powerhouse. The difference was 690 had a huge number in L.A. and Orange County. We owned Orange County. 710 had tried to launch sports against us and we just crushed them. We owned the whole Southern California market. 1090 despite having a same signal that we had at 690 never showed a blip in L.A. and Orange County. Their focus was purely San Diego. The cost of that stick — when they lost the Padres I knew they were dead. They didn’t have any revenue streams to pay the bills.

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That’s the other thing; you have to be smart. I know this, 1360, when you’re with iHeartMedia, 90 percent of our listeners — we have a 5,000-watt signal, 1360 is not a big signal — but we also know that about 90 percent of our audience is listening to us on iHeartRadio. They can get a clear signal wherever they’re going and that’s how people listen to it.

Now, do we get credit for all those people? No, but I also know that I’m part of a major conglomerate. We have a lot of successful FM stations, AM stations, news stations in San Diego, so we’re protected. It doesn’t mean they can’t pull the plug on us. It just means that your chances for survival are better than it would be if you were an independent, which essentially 1090 was.

It was the same thing with The Beast in L.A. They started this new station The Beast in L.A. on a station, 980, that I knew was up for sale. My old producer at FOX Radio, Erik Peterson, was working over there. He called me about leaving San Diego to come over to do the midday show. I said I’ll tell you what, Erik, if you guys are still on the air in six months, call me. Less than two minutes later, they were off the air. They just hired Chris Myers to do that midday show. So I think you do have to have a pretty good sense of actually what’s going on out there to survive in this business. You know how they always say big fish, small pond? Sometimes it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond if you’re looking for longevity. I’ll put it that way. 

Noe: What’s the craziest story you could tell me about a show you did, or a segment you were on, where you sat back and said this wild right now?

Steve: All right well there is no question the craziest show I ever did this was back in 1997. We are at 690 and what had happened was that John Lynch, our original owner, had sold out to Jacor, which eventually got gobbled up by Clear Channel. We had a new PD. I had a new partner. Chet Forte had died in 1996. I was working with Bill Werndl. This guy was putting a lot of pressure — because we were just sports guys — and he wanted us to do segments that were joke segments, like people calling in with jokes and everything. It was just ridiculous.

We also got in trouble with this guy because he had encouraged us to interview a guy who did Harry Caray imitations, insisting he did a Dan Dierdorf imitation. This made national news. We brought a guy on doing a Dan Dierdorf imitation on a night when the Chargers were hosting a Monday night game. Dan Dierdorf blasted our station and filed a lawsuit against us because they claimed the Dierdorf guy sounded like he was drunk.

We got to the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1997 the first day. It just so happens this guy was out of town. So on that first day — you know 16 games on a Thursday — I went to our producer and I said this is the way we’re going to do our three-hour show today. Now understand this, we could get away with it because we had a Mexican transmitter. All right? Only because we had a Mexican transmitter. I want you to go on the air and say that Steve and Bill think they have the day off because we’re carrying NCAA tournament games, (but in reality we’re not). We have set up a secret microphone in Steve’s house to listen in on him and Billy watching the games. So I called Jim Laslavic who was the main sports anchor at the NBC affiliate in San Diego and Brad Holland, my former UCLA cohort, who was then the basketball coach at the University of San Diego to join us in studio.

Even though our producer was saying they had a secret mic at my house, in reality we were actually in the studio. We purposefully sat off mic. We turned on the games. We cranked out some beer, pork rinds, chips, and everything else, and proceeded to watch the games as if we were sitting in my living room dropping f-bombs, shit, screaming — this was on the air for three hours. They would go to commercial break. The producer would come on saying if you’re wondering what we’re listening to we have a secret mic at Steve Hartman’s house. It just so happens Jim Laslavic and Brad Holland have stopped on by. And I’m like, “Billy what f***? God dammit, man. You’re stinking up my f***in’ bathroom, man. Can’t you get you’re shit” — this is going out on the air. Our board op is trying to dump, again we’re sort of off mic, but f***s and shits are going on the air all over the place for three hours.

The next day all hell broke loose. This is back in the days — the phone lines were lighting up all over the building. At the end of it the L.A. Times called. The producer came on the next day saying that he apologized, that Steve didn’t know anything about it, blah blah blah blah blah. I mean this whole thing — we created this thing. To this day people still think it was real. We never came clean that it was staged. We just apologized for it. Eventually when this guy got back, he didn’t fire me. He was like what the f***?! I said you told me to be outrageous. I gave you outrageous.

My whole purpose of doing that was back off and let me do my f***in’ sports show. We went back to sports talk. I think in the next book we were like top three in the city in men 25-54, and that was the end of it. It is a show that people that heard it to this day — I mean this is over 20 years ago — still claimed they heard. It’s like all the people that claim they were there when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. I think there were 1,500 people in Hershey. I’ve had so many people say they heard that show. I wish I had a tape of it. I was trying to make a point that day of just — forget the crazy shit. If you want crazy, I’ll give you the craziest shit you ever heard, but let me do sports talk. I guarantee you there’s never been a show like that. Ever. Ev-er. The only reason I knew that we weren’t going to get our license pulled is because we had the Mexican transmitter. We weren’t under the FCC regulations because of that.

Noe: (laughs) Wow. That’s amazing, man.

Steve: It’s sort of a dream show for every guy that really wants to just cut loose before there were podcasts and everything else. That was the ultimate podcast before they actually existed.

Noe: For someone who rarely ever takes time off, what’s something you have done instead of working on those occasions?

Steve: To show you how weird I am, like two weeks ago I took three days off midweek to fly to Atlanta, Georgia to sit in the archives of the College Football Hall of Fame and research statistics on college football players. Now no one in the world understands this — only the curator of the College Football Hall of Fame; I love college football.

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Baseball stats have been exhausted, but I’ve taken on the biggest beast of all and that’s the history of college football. I’m talking about game-by-game statistics for kick returns, punt returns, punts — not just rushing records — of prominent players in history. I literally took three days, flew to Atlanta, sat in an archive room for about 10 hours a day, and dug through old media guides. That’s like my dream day off. That’s one of my things.

It gets back to my original obsession with sports stats. That has never changed. That is still what drives me in sports. My career in broadcasting is a way for me to pay my bills and do something I have interest in, but it’s not really who I am.

What I am is the same guy I was when I was seven years old. I’m a guy that’s obsessed with sports numbers, stats and stuff like that. While some guys have dedicated their lives to baseball reference, I can make more money broadcasting. Of course with three children now all in college, I have bills to pay and everything else. That’s how I do it. I never take weeks off. I would take a day — I did take my daughter for a couple of days to New York as she was visiting NYU — but that’s it. I never take a weekend off. Ever. I do my double shifts every Saturday and Sunday. I cannot remember the last time I took a day off ever on the weekends.

Noe: Before we end, if you circle back — it’s kind of like Cal Ripken’s streak — what were the years and what was the span where you hadn’t taken a day off?

Steve: There was a 14-year span. From 1998, when I started working television in L.A., until 2012 when KTLA took me off the weekends and put me on the morning show. That was pretty much my endless streak. If I took any days off, honestly it was a handful. So basically in a 14-year span from ‘98 the 2012 when in July they pulled me off the weekends to put me on the morning news. I took advantage of those weekends. I remember taking my kids to football games. I took advantage of that, but that was my big streak there from ‘98 to 2012 where I literally — any days off you can count them on one hand.

Noe: Do you remember what you did on that day off in 2012?

Steve: I do remember this. I will tell you this. Not so much 2012, but when I got taken off the national show. Bruce [Gilbert] had asked me to work a couple of weeks after Pat just walked out. That first Monday — this was the first Monday where I had not been employed — so this is January of 2014. This is the first time technically I had not been employed as a Monday through Friday radio guy since 1989. I thought this will be good. I have time.

That first Monday I think I went to a Jersey Mike’s to eat a casual lunch. That one day literally felt like it was a week. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I really did not know. In the back of your mind when you work all the time — because there’s always going to be a day when you’re like, man I could use a day. I think about those things, but that was the harsh reality to me that that’s not the way I was programmed. I realized that day that I’ve got to get back to working all the time. It’s just the way I’m programmed, and here I am. I’m back to what I love to do. I’m doing nine shifts.

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Really February of this year was the first time I ever actually signed on to do seven days a week of radio. I had done six days a week of radio, I worked television obviously on the weekends working seven days a week, but since February this is the first time in my career I’ve done radio seven days a week. We’re rolling and I couldn’t be happier. It’s great. I don’t know people in our business that are like, “Ahh man, I can’t wait till I retire.” Why? Retire to what? If they’re going to continue the pay you to talk sports, why would you not sort of do that forever?

BSM Writers

Landry Locker Takes Something From Everyone

“I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort.”

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Sports radio has always been a big part of Landry Locker’s life. When he was growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Grapevine, Texas to be exact — Landry’s dad used to have sports radio on in the house as background noise. How awesome is that? You’ll hear that an athlete like Steph Curry has basketball in his veins. It works the same way with Landry; sports radio has been in his blood from an early age.

Landry hosts In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 in Houston. His program director, Armen Williams, says that Landry digs into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s interesting to hear why audio is so important to Landry’s approach to sports radio.

He also describes the PDs he’s worked for, the lowly Texans, replacing the rush of doing radio, and tapping the brakes on self-criticism. Enjoy!

BN: From listening to sports radio in Dallas when you were a young kid, what have you taken from those years that you still apply to today?

LL: Pretty much everything. Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket started in the mid-90s. My dad was the kind of guy, before my parents got divorced, who would have sports radio on in the house as the background noise. When that started, The Ticket and all of that, that was a big influence just because it was 24/7. It’s always been something that I’ve gotten into whether it’s I want to hear what so-and-so has to say after the game, all of the reaction and all of that type of stuff. It’s always been a big part of my life, especially when The Ticket came around during the Cowboys’ second Super Bowl run.

BN: Is there anything in terms of a host’s style, not that you’re copying it, but you look and say I like what that guy does, and maybe subconsciously, that’s gone into your approach?

LL: I take something from everyone, even growing up, or the people that I’ve worked with in the business throughout my career. I think you take stuff from everybody. Different styles, there’s not really anyone that I try to be, but I think you can learn from certain people. I would say The Ticket, not to take yourself too serious. I think you could learn from guys who are real sports guys, old school, just how to do your research and be on top of your stuff.

I’ve worked with Randy Galloway when I was in Dallas and Ben and Skin. I kind of model myself after those guys kind of being loose; being sportsy and non-sportsy at the same time. Ken Carman and Anthony Lima in Cleveland, I was with them for like five months. I had a brief stop in Cleveland. I think the creativity of those guys I take in. I really just try to take in something from everybody, old school, new school, all that, and just incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.

BN: Why was the Cleveland stint so short?

LL: The Cleveland thing was just a good opportunity because it was a chance to branch out and I really like Andy Roth, their program director. I think he’s a really, really, really good PD. I like Ken and Anthony. It was when their show first started. When I got there it was more so — and Ken and I are still good buddies — but Cleveland wants you to be from Cleveland. It is 100 percent from Cleveland.

When some jackass from Texas comes in there and is talking about LeBron James or something like that — there are some cities where that works. There are a lot of transplants in Houston and there are a lot of transplants even in New York. Sometimes you can go do that; Cleveland’s not the city for that. No matter how well I worked with Ken and Anthony, the shelf life was kind of limited on how much you could climb up.

Nick Wright actually got his job to go national, so I became the producer of the morning show here. They gave me immediate reps on air. I just took that experience as much as I could, the six months in Cleveland, and brought it here. But you know how it is in Cleveland; you could say the smartest thing in the world, but if they check your ID and they see that you’re not from Ohio, you can basically go to hell. It doesn’t matter what you said. That’s not a knock on ‘em. That’s why it’s so popular there. That’s why it’s one of those cities where you go in the gas station, they’ve got The Fan on there. They’re ready to get it, but I could basically solve the cure for cancer and they don’t give a rat’s butt what I’m saying in Cleveland. I understood that from the jump.

BN: Is Dallas like that at all?

LL: I don’t think Dallas is like that because if you just look at the lineup, a lot of the guys from The Ticket, there’s a guy from Wisconsin in Bob Sturm. There’s a guy from Cleveland in Dan McDowell. There’s just guys from other places. RJ Choppy originally went to college at Tennessee, then he went to New Jersey. Shan Shariff was in Maryland, Kansas City and all that stuff. Houston has a lot of transplants. You do want to know what you’re talking about and you do want to have a grasp of history.

There’s a legendary tale about Nick Wright when he came to Houston from Kansas City that I just always admired, even when I didn’t even know anything about Nick Wright. When he had his job interview with Gavin Spittle, who’s the PD now in Dallas, Nick had like four pages, front and back, basically he’d written out the sports history of Houston. It went from the Oilers to the Rockets, all that, and it was handwritten. It wasn’t just printed out. When I came here, even when I went to Cleveland, I would try to follow that. They are open in Houston and Dallas, but you have to show that you respect the history and have a grasp of it. Then you just have to perform on the air.

BN: You’ve had a few different program directors from Jeff Catlin to Andy Roth and Armen Williams. What are the similarities and differences between those guys?

LL: Well, Jeff’s a hard-ass. Jeff Catlin is an ass-kicker. The one thing that I can take from Jeff is that he’s no nonsense. If you deserve to be cussed out, you’re going to get cussed out. If you screw up, he’s going to let you know. He is going to let your work speak for itself. He’s going to welcome feedback and he’s no nonsense. No nonsense Jeff Catlin. Being the ultimate professional, no nonsense, is something I took from Jeff.

Andy’s just a hard worker who is one hundred percent engaged in programming. Whether you’re on at 6am or 10pm; if you play a sound clip and you don’t credit FOX Sports or you don’t credit ESPN, Andy is going to let you know about it. He’s going to give you feedback and it’s going to be transparent. It can get a little bit intense with Andy, but it’s always going to be honest and he cares about the on-air product. And he’s going to work his ass off.

Barrett Sports names Roth top sports director | Briefs |  clevelandjewishnews.com

Armen is a guy who has a lot of the same qualities as both of those guys. It’s kind of like a mix of both. I think the thing that Armen has on those guys is he’s been in radio for life. He’s a guy who was working at radio stations when he was young. He’s a guy who was working in promotions. He’s a guy who was a producer. He’s a guy who went and became a PD. I think Armen is just about that radio life and he’s kind of a combination of all those guys.

Armen’s also very, very good at imaging and very, very good at creating the notion that the station is on the right topic. I think he has that grasp down very, very good to where what do we need to be talking about? Sometimes we’ll go in to commercial and imaging will be so new it’s like dang, how did he flip that so quick? I think Armen is kind of a combination of those two. There’s been a lot of guys I’ve worked with and I’ve picked all their brains and they all provide a little bit of something. 

BN: If there’s one thing a talent needs most from a PD, what is it?

LL: I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort. I think it kind of depends. I think some guys probably need airchecks a little bit more. I think some guys need to be coddled. I think some guys need to be kicked in the butt.

It’s like when someone asks you what’s the key to a good show, I don’t know because there are so many different styles. But I think different guys need different stuff. I think the most important thing is that you need a PD who’s able to treat people differently, almost like a coach. I think you need a PD that’s going to be able to have a grasp of what each guy needs. I’ve been fortunate to work with PDs who’ve been able to do that.

BN: Working with a highly respected talent like John Lopez, who has teamed with Nick Wright and a few others, what’s one of the main things that you’ve taken from him as a talent?

LL: I’ve been very fortunate to work with John because I think that when you’ve been doing it as long as he has — I call him the OG for a reason — there’s a better chance that guy is going to have a little bit of jerk in him, and he’s going to tell you it’s his way or the highway. John has allowed me to not take over, but put my creative spin on it, and he kind of plays off me. I know a lot of times it can be annoying for him. John is like a unique guy in that he’s been doing it as long as he has, but he’s pretty carefree and as long as you develop his trust, he’s going to play off of you.

There’s immediate credibility that comes with somebody who’s been around as long as Lopez has. The likability, the experience, and just the open-mindedness, I’ve been very fortunate with John Lopez. I’ve seen some guys in his situation who will just lay out. They’re not going to do anything. I could ask Lopez hey, give me a list of 10 blah, blah, blah, and he’ll do it. He’s just a lot more open-minded than a lot of people that have been doing it as long as him have been. He has that credibility. He has that likability.

BN: So the Texans stink as you know. And you’re the flagship station at 610. What’s that like to do a balancing act?

LL: Well, we don’t have to. It’s really actually kind of crazy; they are very, very fair to us. You wouldn’t know that we were the flagship with the way we talk. They understand the situation and they’ve let us criticize them as much as possible, which is rare. I know there are other teams in town that don’t allow that. I’ve seen some teams do it, but they really, really do let us be honest and transparent about it. I haven’t had to endure any walking the line or anything like that.

We’ve talked about anything and everything and they’re very fair. We’ve talked about how bad David Culley is at managing games. We’ve talked about the culture problems. We’ve talked about Nick Caserio not winning trades. I mean I can’t lie.

I want to say something good about them; it’s just there’s nothing. They don’t have any good young players. They’ve traded all their draft picks. They’re the worst team in the league. The coach is making brain fart after brain fart. There’s culture issues. There’s trust issues. I want something, they’re just not giving it to me. I haven’t gotten any calls for things that I’ve said or anything. It sucks to cover a team this bad, but they let us do our job for sure.

BN: Armen told me that you dig into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. He said you call it going into the lab. Why is it so important to you?

LL: I think that it’s part of the story. I think especially in NFL-centric cities where it’s a week-long buildup, if David Culley said that he trusts the culture after Week 1, and you can remember that and go back to after you lose eight straight games, I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the story and I think you’re not dependent on a team being good. Audio is a big part of what we do. When someone sends a cut sheet, I listen to every single clip and I’ll trim it. If there’s a Sunday press conference or something like that and they say yesterday, I’ll take out the word yesterday just so that it’s timely.

In Buffalo or wherever, like a good city, they can just depend on breaking down each game. But if you’re building up the story and you’re talking about David Culley said this, or David Johnson said that, or I can remember way back in the day when so and so said this, let’s compare it to that, I just think the build-up doesn’t get old and the story doesn’t die. I have a photographic memory where I’ll remember something that someone said like 15 years ago. I think it adds to the intrigue just what is being said and I’m not dependent on the team being good.

NFL: David Culley wishes he'd taken 3rd down over punt

BN: When you finish a show do you look back like, ahh man, I didn’t think about playing this one clip or I didn’t think about saying this one thing? Are you built like that, or are you just kind of like hey man, the show was pretty good, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow?

LL: Sometimes I’ll get done with the show and be like man, that sucked. I’ll be like that was terrible; I should have done this, this, this, this. I think you kind of have to stop doing that at a certain point. I don’t ever think you should do a show and just say it’s over, move on. But I used to beat myself up to where it was basically like you can’t sleep and you think you stink and all of that type of stuff.

I do sometimes wonder if we left some meat on the bone. Other times I’ll think it was good and I’ll listen back, and I’ll be like man, that sucked. That really wasn’t that good. That’s probably the most uncomfortable thing for me is listening to myself, but I have to do it. I’m still kind of my own worst critic, but you do have to kind of tap the brakes a little bit when it comes to criticizing yourself. Still be aware but you do have to tone it down a little bit because I would just beat myself up and not even be able to enjoy the rest of my day.

BN: Do you have any particular goals that you’re working toward?

LL: I think eventually I would like to get in drive time. I like having the midday, but I’d like to get into drive time, try to figure that type of thing out. I just want to continue to build credibility. I want to be the guy that people go to in Houston where if something happens, if Deshaun Watson gets traded, it’s hey we’ve got to hear what Landry Locker has to say about that. That’s really the goal.

As far as going national, stuff like that, I like local radio. I think local radio is the best. This is the second time I’ve quoted Nick Wright; Nick was asked about radio and he said local radio is not going anywhere because it’s really the place that you go to figure things out about your squad. It’s a service, it’s part of the community, so I really like the local thing. I just want to continue to get better, branch out, and be as good at this as possible and expand as the business continues to grow.

BN: When it comes to the most fun you’ve had in all your days of doing radio, where were you and what was it about that situation that was so fun?

LL: Man, I feel like I wish I could just point to one thing, but I get such a rush doing shows, even in different roles, that it’s like I can’t even really answer that question. I had a very fun time when I got my first on-air segment; that was with Ben and Skin back in Dallas. They called it the Locker Room. It was so exciting. The first time you get to host that show, that was fun. Cleveland when the Cavs won the championship and I was with Ken and Anthony. When the Astros won the World Series here. Reaction Mondays are just amazing to me because you’re reacting to the game, the fans are feeding off the energy. 

There’s really just not one time that I can point to and say — and I’m not trying to be corny or anything like that — but I just think the full rush of putting together a four-hour show, talking to sports fans which are the most passionate, there’s not really one thing I can point to. I wish I could, but there’s just so many good times. It’s hard to list what the one would be.

BN: I agree with you about local radio, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but let’s just say it did. Or there are cuts or whatever and you’re no longer in radio. It’s almost like an athlete who says what am I doing now that my career is over? What would you do after your radio career to try to get the same rush?

Mangled communications tower behind TxDOT Abilene being demolished,  replaced | KTXS

LL: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s one of those things where you just have to have the perspective. I have had that disappointment when ESPN 103.3 got bought out and Catlin said “I think you should try to branch out and figure something else out.” I have tasted it before. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I’m really good at. I have no idea what I would do without it. I try not to think about it too much but man, a lot of guys have had to answer that question. I’m just blessed to not have to answer that question right now at the very least. It’s a scary thought to think about not doing this.

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Even Sports Talk Hosts Have To Make Halftime Adjustments

“Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.”

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USA Today Sports

Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated and the SEC Network didn’t play football beyond high school. Still, he really understands scheme and personnel packages. This past Sunday on his podcast, Split Zone Duo, Johnson said that he had listeners tell him that he could be a coach and he gave a great answer to that.

Articles by Richard Johnson - Sports Illustrated
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

He said that if you study and if you played football at all, you can probably script an opening drive for a team. That isn’t hard. There aren’t a lot of people on Earth though that can make mid-game adjustments to respond to what the other team is doing. That is something that comes with experience and really, truly knowing football. He isn’t one of those people.

Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.

We have crossed the halfway point on the NFL season. I reached out to several broadcasters to see how they have adjusted what they do and how they talk about the home team.

The NFL is a league that always throws wrenches at us. Parity allows teams expected to hover around .500 to be in contention for a playoff bye with just a few borderline calls going their way. The violence of football means we are talking about injuries all the time and those injuries can derail even the most promising of seasons. Golden Boy rookies struggle to adjust to the speed of the pro game and fans start to panic. A great local host has to absorb and reflect all of that.

Four hosts in NFL markets told me how their coverage and conversations about the home team have changed from the preseason to now.

ANDREW FILLIPPONI – 93.7 THE FAN IN PITTSBURGH

Andrew Fillipponi | Audacy

Our Steelers conversation has focused on the present and future of the quarterback position in Pittsburgh. Initially, it was a referendum on the team’s decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for an 18th season. Then, when the Steelers fell to 1-3, it turned into a look at the external options for the position in 2022: the college draft class and Aaron Rodgers.

Now with the Steelers 5-3-1, there’s more interest in how this team will finish. Will it make the playoffs or not? Will there be another December/January collapse? So I anticipate there will be a lot of discussion about the current team’s performance in the weeks ahead.

JASON MARTIN – 104.5 THE ZONE IN NASHVILLE

Covering the Titans is always a ride, or it certainly has been during the time I’ve had a regular platform to talk about them. The fanbase has been battered and beaten down by mediocrity and disappointment, though under Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson, the hope and optimism is high. The beginning of the 2021 season was different because Tennessee won the AFC South last season, exorcised some of the old Colts demons, and had a legit MVP candidate in Derrick Henry. Add to it big name free agent moves like Julio Jones and Bud Dupree and it grows into an electric atmosphere in the audience and one where they look everywhere for applause for the team they love so much. 

That said, it’s also one that has a tendency to get overly defensive whenever any of the optimism is challenged. I’ve found myself on the outs with some people at times, like any local host would, because I’ve been a little more negative, not by design, but just because I don’t feel my own analysis is worth anything if it isn’t objective. If I don’t tell you exactly what I think, if I just go along to get along all the time, why would anything I say have any relevance or weight? It’s just my opinion, but I want it to matter when I say something’s going right, when I offer up praise, or when I say the Titans are one of the best teams in the league. The only way to make that happen is to also be direct when things aren’t going well and when criticism is warranted.

Once Henry was injured, I felt strongly that the chances of winning a Super Bowl dropped off a cliff. I predicted before the season this team would win the big game (I’d never done that before), but had to pivot and say a few weeks ago if 22 didn’t return this season, the playoffs would be the ceiling, not the Lombardi. But, the key is in always keeping a door open until it’s fully closed. I may have learned that a few weeks ago also, because of course, there’s still a chance until this team loses a playoff game. You have to be authentic, but also be willing to listen to a passionate fanbase that educates itself well on the team and cares deeply about the results every season. There’s no reason to be confrontational just for the sake of it. Objectivity with frank discussion and respectful debate is our goal and hopefully we achieve it in the audience’s eyes more often than not. I love our group in the studio and love the Fam (our audience) outside of it. Just like any family, sometimes we argue over dinner, or in our case, since it’s morning drive… over breakfast.

And often, they teach me as much or more than I could ever teach them. That’s why radio is great. The interaction is EVERYTHING. 

CODY STOOTS – ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 IN HOUSTON

Cody Stoots (@Cody_Stoots) / Twitter

The Texans are very bad and there are only so many ways to plainly say the Texans are bad. Game breakdowns are less and less useful as the losses pile up. It becomes a focus to critique players and coaches who will be on the team next year. We have to get creative in our approach to talking about the team. An example from last week is we took the temperature of the fanbase by asking for their “fandom injury report” during the show. There were plenty of funny responses and sometimes, with the Texans, you have to laugh to keep from crying. 

They don’t have a quarterback for next season and should be loaded with an expected Deshaun Watson trade this offseason. We find ourselves lusting after quarterback situations and also explaining how we would like the Texans to avoid replicating other teams’ mistakes at quarterback. It’s also worthwhile to examine how the Texans found themselves in this situation when something jars our memory and if they have cleaned up the process which led to their failures. 

NICK WILSON – WFNZ IN CHARLOTTE

Sports talk adjustments halfway through the NFL season depend entirely on the market and the path of the organization. When Cleveland was winning 4 or less games every year, I knew I had to have my scouting reports for the next quarterback crop ready by early November. 

In Carolina, draft talk doesn’t sustain an audience the way it does in Cleveland when teams are bad. You’re left with this moving target of national NFL stories, the start of the ACC basketball season and recently, LaMelo Ball and the Hornets to accentuate whatever day-to-day storylines are available.  

This year Carolina 3-0, proceed to lose 5 of their next 6 and then brought back the former face of the franchise, Cam Newton, to save the season. Today our topic was “which p-word are the Panthers closer to embracing: panic or playoffs.” I’m awaiting our Marconi. 

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Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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