Friday, August 9, 2013

Changes Made to Wildcat Radio Sports Coverage

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 9:30 AM

As the Media Watch Columnist for the Tucson Weekly, I’ve covered my share of firings in radio and television. That typed, it’s still admittedly a bit odd writing my own epitaph.

On Thursday, August 8, Cumulus Tucson Operations Manager Herb Crowe took the time to call Brad Allis and I and let us know the station had decided to make major changes to its radio pre and postgame broadcasts for UA football and men’s basketball. I’ve been involved in analysis for UA sports since the late 90s when I teamed with the likes of Eric Thomae and Ryan Radtke on KNST AM 790. When KNST lost the contract to KCUB AM 1290, I was able to transition into a pre and postgame role there. Brad was brought on board shortly thereafter, and we’ve acted as something of a fixture on those broadcasts for most of the last decade.

Management at Cumulus Tucson decided now was the time to shake things up a bit.

“We wanted to get a different feel for the show, and being able to get Kevin as part of the broadcast along with Rob allows us to extend the brand of the show, and that all feels like good stuff,” Crowe said.

Kevin is Kevin Woodman. Rob is Rob Lantz. They host In the House, the station’s daily afternoon talk show. Rob has teamed with Brad and I on pre and postgame broadcasts for at least the last four years. Woodman, a gifted natural radio talent who has done excellent things alongside Rob, is one of two new additions. The other is Glenn Howell.

And therein lies the real different direction. Howell, who is really good people and handled sideline reports for UA television broadcasts prior to the contract with the Pac-12 Network, brings what management views as that special athlete’s perspective.

A decision on who will help to host basketball pre and postgame shows has yet to be determined.

I’ll try to be as careful as I can with I type next, because I don’t want this to come off as being disparaging to Glenn, who can be a very engaging person. Nor do I want this to come off as sour grapes, the slighted media guy angry because he’s out of a gig. But since I’ve made reference to the dynamic in past Media Watch columns, it seems disingenuous not to include it here.

Not always, but usually, adding a former athlete to the broadcast is rarely a move that incorporates actual insight. The position is supposed to provide the listener access into the mind of a performer before, during and after the game. What’s being discussed? How are they preparing? What do they do and how do they react during big game sequences? What are the various personality traits and dynamics? These are things a former athlete could allegedly provide. After all, they at one point had unique access and an understanding of the competitive psyche not available to members of the media.

Instead, the former athlete generally utilizes the forum by doubling down on a litany of tired sports clichés while being an apologist for the home team when things aren’t going well.

Brad, Rob and I were not apologists. We may have differed on the severity of the performance or a given situation that didn’t go as well as we thought it should, but we took pride in presenting our broadcasts in a way that valued our take on objectivity. Brad and I graduated from the UA. Rob loves the Wildcats, and has lived in Tucson most of his life. As broadcasters, we wanted to see the UA do well. But when they didn’t, we weren’t going to sugarcoat it either.

But in the off-season, once 1290 and IMG, the network that produces UA sporting events, re-upped on a renewal portion of the contract that runs until 2019, IMG has also included a series of requests to try to use the flagship station as a branding platform for Wildcat athletics. It’s certainly possible that the Brad and Schu version of call-it-like-we-see-it objectivity didn’t jive with the way IMG wants to brand the product.

“I respect what you guys have done and the work that you’ve put in, but I feel like we just need to try something else and go in a different direction,” Crowe said.

Even though, with us at the helm, Wildcat pre and postgame broadcasts got better numbers and drew more traffic to the website than any station in the cluster other than KIIM 99.5 FM, the country station that leads the market in listenership.

Not to toot our own horn, but here’s what 1290 gave up. Brad Allis has covered UA athletics in some capacity for the better part of the last 20 years. He is a recruiting expert who has sifted through an obscene amount of video for the purposes of understanding and interpreting what strengths and weaknesses a player possesses before they come into the program, and how they might benefit the program upon their arrival. He is also a walking depth chart encyclopedia and possesses a historical knowledge of the program matched by only a handful of people. And none of that handful is doing commentary on the radio.

In his personal life, Brad and his wife involved themselves in raising foster children and recently adopted twins. They don’t know it now, but those are two of the luckiest kids in town, even if their dad is going to have to struggle a bit harder to help to make ends meet because the radio station decided his knowledge no longer served the kind of purpose they required.

I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years of radio experience and another quarter century in print journalism. A lot of that has taken place in Tucson, and much of it has focused on covering UA football, men’s basketball and the university’s other successful sports pursuits. I know what I’m doing, I’m good at it, and know how to bring it across in a way that’s valuable to listeners.

Speaking of whom, the listeners have played an immense role in making that show a blast. It was a fun gig, and I really enjoyed doing it. I relished the audience participation, and valued the many more folks who made the effort to listen on their way to and from the game, whether they loved us, hated us, or were generally neutral. Just to take the time to find some value in what we delivered means more than I can express here.

I can tell you first hand, that played a big role, whether we started a pregame show at 6am for a 10 o’clock matchup that featured the UA on the east coast or remained on the air until 2:30 am following a late-night Fox Sports or ESPN made-for-TV start time. Or say, last December 15, when our day started around 7 with the UA football team’s bowl game against Nevada, and concluded around two am after sharing the excitement of Arizona’s miraculous gridiron win and last-second victory over highly-ranked Florida. That was a rush.

I’m not naïve to the ways of the business. I’ve covered stories about better radio talent losing their jobs, and they had much larger listener segments than I could fathom, and in the process meant more to the fabric of the community. But the product moves on. Occasionally, their names come up in a “where are they now” sort of way.

Even though the ego is a bit bruised I’m also well aware the pre and postgame broadcasts will progress just fine. Rob knows the drill. He’s been doing the show a long time. He knows what to expect and will perform this portion of his seemingly ever-increasing workload extraordinarily well.

Kevin Woodman has next to no formal radio experience, and is a major market talent who has a chance to make a lot of money in a business where less and less people are doing so.

And again, Glenn Howell is a good guy, and while I think he’s going to realize that filling time on the radio and continuing to come off as engaging and informative isn’t as easy as it might seem—segment after segment after segment—he has excellent contacts with the football program, is very likable and will provide numerous listeners with a perspective they’ll enjoy.

The show will go on. And I’ll listen.

It was a phenomenal privilege to be a part of it.

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