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Sorting The NCAA Tournament Broadcast Teams

“Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand.”

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Ready or not, here we go. The field is set and the NCAA Tournament officially begins today. Obviously, this is not your normal “Big Dance”, the games are all being played in and around Indianapolis. There are strict COVID protocols and the biggest fear for some coaches is not their opponent, but the virus. 

As it’s called “The Road to the Final Four” will come our way on the same platforms we’ve finally gotten used to. Catch games on CBS and the Turner Networks, which include TBS, TNT and TruTV. 

Of course, then there are the broadcasters. In a change from previous tournaments, there will be a total of ten crews, rather than the normal eight. Only four of the crews will work past the first two rounds. I’ve decided to look into each of the broadcast teams. Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand. There are some familiar faces and voices and some that are appearing in roles for the first time, including a groundbreaking debut. 

#1 Seeds 

These are the teams that will be moving on past the first round. Tried and true most have become very familiar to tournament watchers and are fan favorites. 

TEAM: Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, Grant Hill analysts; Tracy Wolfson, sidelines. 

Nantz is the NCAA Tournament for many viewers. This is his 30th year as the lead announcer for the tournament. Nantz has been at the microphone for many of the tournament’s magic moments the past three decades. He is also the ultimate traffic cop, steering a broadcast back onto the road when conversations erupt between Hill and Raftery. This will be the sixth season of this trio working together alongside Wolfson. Raftery is always energetic. Sometimes that level rises to interesting heights. Personally, I love it when Raftery takes the broadcast to break, talking over a highlight package, using phrases and that high pitched “little kiss” voice. Classic. 

Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight's  telecast of the NCAA title game - Sports Broadcast Journal

Hill provides some soft-spoken credibility. There’s no way he can or should try to match Raftery’s level, so Hill is himself, in that kind of shy way he delivers his analysis. It works. Wolfson is locked in as a sideline reporter. She covers multiple sports and seems to get excellent information that is truly relevant to the game and broadcast. There’s a reason that this is the lead team, they work well together and it’s a smooth fun broadcast to watch. 

TEAM: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Jim Jackson, analyst; Allie LaForce, sidelines.

Anderson is already quite the accomplished baseball announcer, serving as the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2007. It’s starting to feel like “if it’s a big game” Anderson is on the call. His profile has increased quite a bit with the Turner Networks, especially when it comes to the NBA. Anderson is a likeable, knowledgeable broadcaster that has wide appeal thanks to his style. He’ll work with Jackson during the tournament, someone who Anderson is very familiar with. They worked together for the first-time doing games for the Big Ten Network in 2009.  

There is definitely chemistry here. Jackson isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the same time, the man has a great sense of humor and it comes through during a telecast. Especially with someone he’s comfortable with sitting next to him. LaForce is climbing the charts at Turner. She was recently the sideline reporter for the NBA All-Star game and did the on-court interview with the MVP. LaForce is a pro. Her questions are right to the point, not filled with fluff like some others. This team is on the rise.

TEAM: Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst; Jamie Erdahl, sidelines.

Eagle has been a mainstay at CBS since joining the network in 1998. He’s been calling both the NCAA Tournament and NFL for the same amount of time. Eagle has been the network’s “B” game announcer for the NFL and seemingly if Nantz were to move on, he would be in line for the call up. Eagle has worked with a number of analysts in the NBA and CBS pairs him with one of them for the tournament, Spanarkel. Up until this year they were partners on the YES Network’s coverage of the Nets. Spanarkel played at Duke and was the 16th overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the 76’ers. Unlike a lot of analysts these days, Spanarkel has no catch phrases, doesn’t shout or try to make himself the star. He is known for just talking basketball and teaching fans about the game. I love the understated way he works with his play-by-play announcers to make the game the main focus.

The third member of the team, Erdahl is the versatile sideline reporter. She’s so prepared for games that even a curveball thrown at her during an SEC Football game couldn’t trip her up. Erdahl had to cover for a couple of minutes while the booth’s audio was inoperable. Covering a football game from that angle is tough, it’s tougher to call play-by-play from for sure. 

Jamie Erdahl is a reporter for CBS Sports | Jamie erdahl, Cheer skirts,  Muscle women

TEAM: Kevin Harlan, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst; Dana Jacobson, sidelines.

There’s really nothing Harlan can’t call. His unbridled enthusiasm, his humor and passion for play-by-play always come through. Harlan is just a likeable guy behind the mic, he’ll crack a joke here and there, but never at the expense of the action. He always seems to be having a great time bringing you the game. He is accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. Harlan will be paired with Bonner, the former Virginia player, who will be working his 35th NCAA Tournament. Bonner has worked with Harlan and Gus Johnson the most in his tournament career, meaning two high energy, live for the moment and make it count guys. Bonner rises to the occasion every time. He’s had some famous calls along the way and doesn’t ever seem intimidated by the guys that are working along side him. Bonner matches the passion with his play-by-play guy and you can tell how much he enjoys the tournament and the game of basketball. The guys at the table will be joined by Jacobson on the sidelines. She’s a familiar face on the broadcasts and one that never shies away from asking a tough question, to anyone. Jacobson is a pro, always composed even when a coach may shoot a glare at her for asking something he didn’t want to answer. She spent about a decade at ESPN before she joined CBS, so she is certainly seasoned. 

Conference Tournament Champions 

These crews gained the “automatic” bid to the tournament. Some of the old guard is represented as is some of the “newer” talent that’s on the cusp of breaking through to a top seed in the tournament.

TEAM: Andrew Catalon, play-by-play; Steve Lappas, analyst; AJ Ross, sidelines. 

Catalon has been around CBS for just over a decade, popping up on NFL coverage, Golf and of course the NCAA Tournament. Catalon has become a fixture during the tournament calling games with Lappas. He has a very excitable delivery; the engine always seems revved and ready to go. It’s an intense style, but it doesn’t go over the top and matches the intensity of a lot of the college basketball games he’s calling.

The former Villanova coach Lappas is a great compliment to Catalon. Lappas is always high energy, bringing that “coach” perspective to the broadcast. If you watch coaches on the sideline you’ll know that perspective as “always into the game”. That’s Lappas and what makes him a good partner for Catalon. This team is becoming more popular with the fans as the tournaments go on. They’ll be joined on the sideline by Ross. She is a relative newcomer having joined CBS and CBS Sports Network in 2018. Ross has risen quickly, working the sidelines for NFL and NCAA Football/Basketball for the network. She has a confidence about her, along with a smooth delivery a great combination to have. Ross looks very comfortable on camera and seems like a perfect person to join this broadcast team. 

TEAM: Spero Dedes, play-by-play; Brendan Haywood, analyst; Lauren Shehadi, sidelines.

Dedes has had a ton of success at a relatively young age. He’s already been the radio voice of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Dedes joined CBS in time for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has been on the call ever since. Dedes also handles NFL games for the network. His voice is unique, but still cuts through and resonates with the viewer. It’s more of a relaxed style than some of the others mentioned in this column, but that is not a bad thing. You want a variety of voices when viewing a long tournament like this. Dedes is knowledgeable and works well with whomever he’s paired with.

Speaking of which, it’s Haywood that will be working alongside. Haywood, the 7-footer, is full of personality. What you see is what you get from him as a broadcaster as well. He has great information, mixed with some sarcasm and laughter. Haywood brings it home like a fan. The third member of this team is Shehadi. The veteran of MLB Network was scheduled to make her first appearance on an NCAA Tournament broadcast last year, but of course it was cancelled. Shehadi has energy and a personality to go along with it. She’s covered the dugouts during the baseball playoffs, so this should be old hat for her. Shehadi is always smiling, seems like she really enjoys what she’s doing. 

Brendan Haywood on UNC's Coaching, NCAA Chances

TEAM: Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, analyst; Evan Washburn, sidelines. 

Nessler is the ultimate pro when it comes to play-by-play. Not flashy, not over the top, just solid. Whether he’s doing CBS’ coverage of the SEC in football or here on a big stage with the NCAA Tournament. Smooth and always under control is Nessler. You always know you’re getting a good broadcast when he is on the call. Lavin has plenty of experience as an analyst, with time at ESPN, Fox, The Pac-12 Network and during the tournament for CBS. Lavin always seems prepared and has a good way of conveying complicated things in an easy-to-understand manner. He dips into his coaching experience to make points that he either had success with as a coach or failed at. He’s a plus on a telecast.

Washburn completes this broadcast. The rising sideline star at CBS has worked with the number one football broadcast on NFL Sundays. He also got a chance to work the Super Bowl. Washburn is a former Lacrosse player at Delaware and he really understands the athlete and his/her mindset. The information he gives out is well prepared and interesting. You can tell he does his homework. 

Primed for the upset 

You know what they say when you fill out a bracket. There are certain 12’s that deserve a better seed and play like it. Especially in those 12/5 matchups where in this list, there are three locks to move on in the tourney and get by a #5.

TEAM: Carter Blackburn, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst.

Blackburn got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 2008, calling action in the West Region at the age of 31. He’s gotten a lot of work through the CBS Sports Network as well. He provides a little youthful exuberance on the mic. Blackburn has some catchy calls, but without getting too far into the weeds where he loses some in the audience. Definitely a guy the network thinks highly of and could be rising as these tournaments roll on.

Antonelli teams up with Blackburn again this season. The two have done some solid work together. Antonelli is well seasoned, having been with CBS Sports Network since its inception in 2003. In 2017 she was named a game analyst for the Men’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first female analyst to call men’s tournament games in 21 years. Antonelli has a ton of experience in the game, she’s worked as a TV analyst for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. She also was a three-year starter for NC State’s basketball team.  

TEAM: Lisa Byington, play-by-play; Steve Smith, analyst.

Byington is making history. She becomes the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Tournament. Forget about all of that for a moment and understand just how talented Byington is. She has worked for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, FS1, Pac-12 Network, ESPN and the SEC Network. Experience for sure. She also filled in last season on Chicago Bulls broadcasts on NBC Sports Chicago. Byington also handles play-by-play for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. She’s already broken barriers by becoming the first woman to call a football game on BTN. She has the credentials, the talent and she deserves this shot and I have every reason to believe she’ll be great. Not just this year, but for many more years to come. Byington will be working with a familiar face. She and Smith have known each other since she was a reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Byington also was part of the broadcast team, as the sideline reporter, when Smith was the analyst for Dedes from 2017-2019. 

TEAM: Tom McCarthy, play-by-play; Avery Johnson, analyst.

McCarthy is one of the new voices this season on the NCAA Tournament broadcasts, but he’s no newcomer. McCarthy’s resume is impressive on both radio and television. He’s broadcast Mets baseball and now Phillies baseball on television. McCarthy is part of the CBS Network rotation for NFL games, handling those since 2014. He also works for Westwood One Sports providing radio coverage of national NFL games. McCarthy is a talented broadcaster, there’s no phony flash or crazy over the top calls. He is solid, as solid as they come. It’s great to see that he’s getting this chance to show what he can do for a couple of big games in this year’s tournament. Johnson is also a newcomer to the scene as far as the tournament goes. He gets a bit of a head start, doing yesterday’s First Four games with the Nessler/Lavin/Washburn team. Johnson has previous television experience, working as an analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA from 2008-10 and again from 2013-15. He’s coached two NBA teams, the Mavericks and Nets and most recently was the coach at Alabama. I’m interested to see how these two will work together. Johnson is full of personality and also provides great information. 

Breaking: Avery Johnson agreed to $5.5 million buyout with Alabama

This will certainly be a unique tournament. One like we’ve never seen before. All the games are being played in one geographical location and with safety protocols in place, the job of the announce team gets ultimately more difficult. I have no doubt that these fine pros will make it sound like they always do. Best of voice to you all and I can’t wait for the ball to be tipped.

BSM Writers

Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call

“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”

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I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.

The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.

OKC Radio Host Sam Mayes Fired After Racist Audio is Leaked

Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.

Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.

We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.

I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.

You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.

People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.

How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.

All About the Lucky Star Casino in El Reno, Concho
Courtesy: TripAdvisor/Adam Knapp

Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.

If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.

In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.

Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.

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What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.

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BSM Writers

Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!

“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”

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Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?

Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.

To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:

#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?

#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?

#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?

If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!

Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.

Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:

#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.

#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.

#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.

#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.

#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.

Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!

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BSM Writers

Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas

“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”

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Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?

Chevy Chase, aka Clark Griswold, to light up stage in Berks | Berks  Regional News | wfmz.com
Courtesy: Warner Bros./National Lampoon

Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!

One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.

Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.

There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.

Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.

I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.

Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.

It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?

25 Best Christmas Inflatables - Top Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.

If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.

Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.

A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.

“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.

We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.

Kevin Anderson on Twitter: "Just noticed that I've been blocked by the  international civil aviation authority @icao Have others working on  aviation emissions also been blocked? Appears to be that their commitment

As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.

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