photo credit: Sportsnet’s MS Paint department
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
When local media people make news I reach out to them for a short interview that sometimes turns into a long interview. Andrew Walker of the FAN’s morning show made news last week by being first to have the full details of the Lind to Milwaukee trade. He kindly agreed to join me for this weekend’s column. (Past guests include Scott MacArthur and Rick Westhead)
5 Questions With … Andrew Walker
Q: Coming from out west, what were your expectations about Toronto’s obsession with the Leafs? Did “Leaf Nation” live up to the hype?
I knew it as the “centre of the hockey universe” and I was really excited to come experience that. I wouldn’t say it has been disappointing but I would say it has been different from what I expected. I’ve never seen a team move the needle like the Leafs do but Toronto is not as hockey crazy as the West; rather Toronto is Leafs crazy. But I do attribute some of that discrepancy to the time zone. It’s tough for people in Toronto to stay up to watch Nashville-Vancouver for obvious and good reasons. Out West you just get to see more hockey.
So, it is Leafs crazy but not as hockey crazy. The World Juniors won’t be embraced here the way it would be out West. And when the Flames aren’t in the playoffs, the local WHL team sells out just as an NHL team would. No chance of that happening in Toronto even though there’s way more people here.
Q: Are Calgarians just as obsessive about the Flames as Torontonians are about the Leafs?
Yes, but there are two differences. First, there is more history here, and second there are way more people here or from here, and they travel well. It’s like comparing the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns. Do Browns fans care less about their team? No, but there are way more Cowboys fans. The same is true of the Leafs.
Q: What are some of the biggest job-related adjustments you had to make in transitioning from doing sports radio in Calgary to doing sports radio in Toronto?
In Calgary, we were 90% hockey most of the year, and maybe 75% in the summer. Here, it’s a lot of Blue Jays, more and more it’s the Raptors, also the NFL … people have a much more diverse set of interests and you have to be really cognizant of what people are talking about at the water cooler.
Another big difference is that out West if you’re not talking Flames/Oliers/Jets then you’re talking Bombers/Stamps/Eskimos [note: these are CFL teams]. Here the Argos get no play.
Q: What do you see as the challenges of doing morning radio versus other time-slots during the day?
In morning radio you are tired all the time. No matter how prepared or excited you are to do the show, you have this mini-battle with yourself every day when the alarm goes off. More importantly though, you are the first show that gets to react to everything that happened the night before. Unless some trade happens in the middle of the day, on most issues, we are the first guys who get to talk about it. When a listener gets in his car he either saw the game and has an opinion or didn’t see the game at all and we are the guys who tell him what happened and what we think. It’s sort of like the way newspapers were 20 years ago. It’s a responsibility and it’s a privilege.
Q: How, and when, do you and Brady and Fabro decide on what topics you’ll discuss during your show?
The conversation for the next show starts right after the show ends. There’s a lot of emails and texts sent in any given day. By the evening we know what the water cooler topics will be, and what has to be the lead for our 6am, 7am, and 8am hours. But the final line-up doesn’t get settled until a few minutes before the show.
Q: Do you ever argue about what the lead should be?
Oh yeah, all the time. We have to be aware of our own personal preferences and that these might not match public preferences. There’s a common sense element to it though. If it were up to me then we would lead with Saskatchewan Rough Riders talk every Monday, but we haven’t mentioned them in maybe 6 months on the show and for obvious reasons.
What happens more often is that we disagree about which sports story is the most important to our audience … World Series versus the Leafs, for example. And what we try to figure out is how we can organize the show so that the least amount of people possible tune in and then switch off because we’re not talking about something they care about. What makes our show different, and people have commented on this a lot, is how quickly we move between topics. Part of that is to make sure that everyone hears a little bit of what they care most about.
Q: When Strombo was hired for the HNIC job he faced some criticism for having not “paid his dues” as a sports host. As someone who is young with a high profile radio gig, did you face any resistance from radio veterans?
I have a bit of an advantage because my medium is radio and you can’t tell my age from my voice. Our target demo is males 25-54 and while I’m in the lower half of that demo but I’m still in it. I could understand some backlash if I were 24. Internally, I haven’t had any negative experiences at the FAN. That said, it is a cut throat business and if you don’t perform then you’re gone.
Q: You were first to have the complete details of the Lind trade. Without divulging your sources, how did you manage to get that scoop?
I think breaking a good sports story in the true sense of “people are needing to hear this info, and the race is on for where they hear it” has a couple of elements. One is luck. A lot of right place, right time sort of thing. The other is simply, networking. Get to know enough people in the sports world, and you never know when you have the “right contact”. That’s all it was for me, it was timing meets contact, and the right MLB source had the answer I was looking for.
Q: Were your baseball colleagues at Sportsnet angry that you scooped them? Or is it understood that it’s “every man for himself” when you get inside info?
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a baseball insider. But sometimes you get lucky. I’m sure there is a sense of disappointment when you’re a big boy on the local baseball scene and someone gets a story ahead of you. But it happens all the time in the hockey world. The one thing I’ll say that I’m proud of about our show, and something that separates it from other shows in the market at any time-slot, is that if you’re listening in the morning there is a chance that you will hear some breaking news. It’s one thing we really do pride ourselves on. Our show had the Cody Franson signing, the Mason Raymond signing. A couple of years back Brady had the Richard Peddie resignation. Brady also got the ball rolling on the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg.
Q: How does someone who grew up without a local MLB team to cheer for end up being such a big baseball fan?
That’s easy. I played ball growing up. I love hockey but I was better at baseball. I cut grass for a local municipality growing up and the local radio station carried the games with Tom & Jerry courtesy of the FAN. From the age of 13-17 I would probably listen to 120 games on the radio while mowing lawns. I love everything about baseball. The fact that the game story is so much more than what the scoreboard shows at the end of the game. The fact that there is no clock … it’s great.
Q: Hockey analytics have moved from being a fringe concept to dominating a lot of NHL discussion. What are your thoughts on the emergence of fancy stats?
I think it’s incredibly overdone. I sometimes play the role of being “anti-analytics” on the radio or Twitter, but mostly I try to be a voice of reason in this debate. The thing I like about analytics is that it tries to explore new aspects of the game. The thing I don’t like is that people are pretending like puck possession, and face-offs, and gap control and cycling are new inventions. They’re not. They have been around for years under the name “good hockey.” And now people are quantifying it, which is a good thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing in the following way. It has made it the case that people can’t even mention words like compete-level, tenacity, hard work, intensity without being ridiculed. People act as if those things are meaningless but at the end of the day this is hockey and those things are not meaningless. They are important to playing the game well.
Q: What would it take for you, or the city, to care about the Argos?
I love the CFL. I get as emotionally invested in the Roughriders as I do when a Canadian competes in the Olympics. So I’m pro-CFL but I get why the Argos struggle here. They have a recent Grey Cup championship, the most exciting player in the game in Chad Owens, and one of the best QBs in the league as well as a CFL legend in Ricky Ray, and yet people don’t care. For example, if we are working in Calgary and the Stamps’ QB is coming in studio then it’s the lead story of the day for the radio station. Here, Ricky Ray – the legend – is just not going to be good for ratings, even at 6:20am. The league is vibrant and successful out West but we just don’t have the same sports competition, nor the competition from concerts and restaurants. I don’t think the problem is the way the Argos do things. It’s not going to get better. I think it’s hopeless.
Q: What’s the best thing about Toronto that you couldn’t appreciate until living here?
Living downtown, the accessibility of sports is incredible. Especially baseball. Living out West you were limited to wherever they do direct flights – Minnesota, San Diego, Denver, Seattle – whereas here I can take the subway 5 stops and walk to the Rogers Centre on a Saturday afternoon. Working in this business sometimes you see guys who get burned out and disaffected and lose their passion for sports. But I love sports so much that when my shift is done I still want to get out and watch as much as I can, and Toronto is amazing for that. Also, the restaurant scene is pretty great too.
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth about Toronto that Torontonians need to hear?
People are disappointingly cold and flaky. It’s a big city with a lot going on and sometimes people want to prove they are busyComing from out West, people are definitely friendlier there. For example, every rec hockey team I played on out West, the sport was relatively speaking the least important thing. It was about the chicken wings and beer after and the laughs in the dressing room. I played on a team here last year where after the game every one went their separate ways after the games. So to not have any close friends on the team after a year of playing with them seems weird to me.
Thanks again to Andrew for taking the time to talk to me. You can listen to Brady & Walker weekday mornings from 5:30 to 9am.
Now that the World Series is over the Jays front office have turned to improving their not quite good enough roster. Besides trading Lind for a bullpen arm, they shed a bunch of contracts by declining options. AA made the rounds to discuss these moves, including an appearance on TSN Drive with Naylor and co-host Mike Hogan.
The Drunk Jays Fans blog used to do a bit when JP Riccardi was GM where they translated his bullshit into normal english. They could do quite a bit with this interview. Let paraphrase for you some of the quotable moments of his interview with TSN:
- “Estrada had a lot of bad luck giving up home runs last year. We think he’ll be better this year.”
This is classic AA. Trading a productive player for a barely above replacement level player (who made $3.5 million last year) and then telling people to expect good things. Because as we all know, pitchers tend to put up better numbers when they move the AL East, right?
- “We start the year with a payroll number but if we see things that can improve the club then we can always go to ownership and ask for more.”
Let’s game out the implications of this statement. The Jays’ last move that added salary was to sign Dioner Navarro to a $4 million dollar a year deal. That was in December 2013. So, if we take AA at his word, one of the following two things is true: 1) he didn’t see any payroll increasing moves that could improve his team since Dec. 2013, or 2) he has been told “no new salaries.” It’s obvious which one is true. He should just say so and stop insulting our intelligence.
- “We would like to sign free agents and make trades but if it doesn’t work out then it’s good that we acquired guys like Smoak, Dirks, Estrada.”
The team is already preparing itself to not sign anyone of consequence this off-season. I know that most of the guys he mentioned can be cut, but we’ve seen this script before from the Jays. Once you sign a bunch of scrubs who could play a position, they stick around and get the majority of at-bats. See for example the cast of character who have played 2B for the Jays over the last few years.
Next, Naylor asked if the payroll was going up this year.
- “It’s possible but I doubt it. Ideally you’d like to put a winning team on the field without spending as much. I don’t know how all that is going to go.”
There it is folks. Beeston claimed that payroll was going up but here we have the GM saying that he is going to try to get this team to 90 wins while reducing payroll. Let’s dig deeper: AA is saying that he doesn’t yet know what his payroll will be. If true, what a horrible way to run a baseball team. But more likely than not, it’s not true. For whatever reason, the Jays have decided that the fans can’t handle the truth about the team’s payroll restrictions.
Did you forget to renew your Jays season tickets? They have increased by as much 40%, by the way.
Shoalts can get to work adding a second floor to the second home the Coyotes have allowed him to build. He had two pieces this week on the ownership changes in the desert as well as the mounting losses that will trigger the escape clause in the lease.
The CHL made news again this week by suspending two players for 15 games after chat transcripts surfaced in which the players used abusive language towards women who turned them down for a hook-up. It’s pretty obvious that the number would have been much lower (perhaps all the way down to zero) pre-Ghomeshi and pre-Ray Rice. I don’t have strong feelings about this case, but I am glad to see the CHL enforcing something like a conduct clause on its players. These players are professionals in training and should learn that employers may demand higher standards.
Low Hanging Fruit
- Anyone have a guess as to why Numeris (formerly BBM) is advertising so heavily in Toronto? Part of me hopes that they have faced pressure over the tiny sample sizes they rely on to generate radio ratings. I’m going to try to get someone from Numeris to talk to me. Given the content of their ads, it would be hypocritical for them to refuse.
- Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest to a lesser charge to settle the child abuse allegations against him. If he were the star player on the Leafs or Raps or Jays, would you want him re-instated? We saw how quickly the Jays dumped Escobar after a fairly stupid but also fairly innocuous joke that went horribly wrong. What would Toronto’s response be to something like the Peterson case?
- Thoughts are with Dave Perkins who is recovering from a heart attack. MLSE has already sent him a get well blanket.
- Steve Simmons on TSN Drive, discussing the perils of social media – “I have hit the send button and wished I hadn’t more times than I can remember.” This fruit hangs too low for me to touch.
Enjoy the weekend everyone. Don’t forget to drop a link to whatever you’re reading or listening to.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
mike (in boston)