Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: The Star


by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail


Good morning readers. Sorry for all the boring CRTC talk last week. Thanks to all of you who wrote to me to complain. This week brought us a more conventionally exciting mix of sports media stories, so let’s get to it.


Countdown to Brady & Walker PM


It has been several months now since Mr. Don Kollins dropped the Blundell bomb on the FAN radio line-up. As you’ll recall, that tactical decision took several twists and turns and several emergency try-outs before the dust finally settled on the current cadre that make up Blundell &Co. The rebuilt morning show has now been running for a few weeks, and if you follow Kollins on Twitter you’ll notice that the daily downpour of retweets of people singing Dean’s praises has dwindled to a few drops here and there. To his credit, Dean managed to make it through the first month without committing any fireable offences, and that has to count as a win over at Rogers HQ. Now begins the long grind to getting the kind of ratings that justify all the mess this decision left in its wake.


We have spent a lot of time debating whether blowing up what was a pretty successful line-up was the right decision. The fall 2014 ratings still have not leaked in full, but unofficially all of the FAN shows were down from their spring 2014 ratings (which were massive), and most were down from Fall 2013. So, if that’s true, there is some plausibility to the theory that Kollins’ changes were motivated by sagging ratings rather than a lust for the younger meat that Blundell could hypothetically bring.


What I would like to discuss this morning in reference to Brady & Walker PM is what to expect, what to hope for, and what to dread.


By way of personal background, I’ll say that Brady & Walker was the first morning sports show I have listened to on a regular basis. There have been a dozen or so Toronto morning sports talk shows in my lifetime, and none of them appealed to me. The way Brady & Walker hooked me was by being a sports show. My biggest complaint about morning sports shows is that in mixing in the obligatory traffic, weather, news, water-cooler talk, and generic pop culture items, they tend to do so at the expense of in-depth sports talk. I understand the theory that says people are just starting their day and don’t want to think too hard. That kind of radio show may appeal to some people, but it doesn’t do anything for me.


So let’s start with what to expect. The hosts are the same so there should be no surprises there. If you didn’t like B&W AM you probably won’t like B&W PM. It is worth pointing out they will now be working without the talented Ryan Fabro. From what I can gather, Fabro seems like one of the hardest working guys in the business and I have a suspicion he is working even harder under Blundell. It will be interesting to see how Brady & Walker gel with Tim & Sid producer Jeff Azzopardi. To my ears, T&S was always a well-produced radio show so things should not take a noticeable downturn in that area. If anything, they’ll have more time before the show to work out how things will unfold.


While B&W AM spent time on traffic and weather it wasn’t significant, so I doubt the format of the show will change much. The main thing I am hoping for is better guests. At 7am you are kind of limited in who you can ask to show up and be coherent. Not so at 2pm. Hopefully they can work to develop good relationships with interesting guests. One of the banes of T&S was the extent to which they relied on Sportsnet personalities to fill out the line-up. There was way too much Wilner, Zaun, Shannon, etc. for my tastes. I understand that when people write original content for the magazine or the website then you want to have them on to promote it. I have no problem with shoehorning Grange or Friedman in for that purpose. But T&S took the in-house promotion mandate too far and caused me to tune out. I’m hoping B&W can resist this to a greater extent, and will look outside the box for interviews and stories.


As far as interview skills, I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about B&W. Neither strikes me as especially good or bad. I have not heard enough to have an informed opinion. It’s safe to say it will be better than T&S in that department though. Here’s a somewhat related question for you: who are your favourite interviewers on either station? McCown is the obvious default answer, but I wonder if anyone else is notably good or bad. Anyway, I’m hoping for lots of good interviews with fresh voices on B&W PM.


Here’s what I’m dreading: call-in segments. You can criticize T&S all day and most of the night but you have to give them credit for doing their show without taking calls. In today’s golden age of easy to access content, I have no idea why anyone would listen to call in shows on radio or TV outside of a post-game show. B&W took calls every now and then on their old show and it was not good radio. Part of that is Brady’s fault. He loves to argue with straw-men and would cut callers off quickly and then lambaste their half-opinions. This complaint goes back to the previous morning show which far too often consisted of Brady screaming at a muted Lang. Arguably the root cause goes back to Brady’s show with the erratic Bill Watters, where exasperation at the claims being proffered was often appropriate.


My request is the following: just try going without calls and see if you need them. The default assumption that you have to get people involved is, I think, a hold-over from a previous era in radio. People can now interact on Twitter if they really want to. That said, I’ll grant that some high profile American sports-talk shows do incorporate calls in entertaining ways, so it’s not impossible to do. To me the risk is greater than the reward.


Lastly, it’s interesting to do a little long term speculation. Suppose Blundell bombs, either by once again running afoul of modern standards regarding sexism and homophobia, or simply by driving away the installed user base and bringing few Edge listeners back the other way. Well, it would be fairly easy to just hit the reset button and re-install the B&W AM app. But I doubt that will happen. Blundell will be given a much longer rope than Krystal was, and poor ratings will be tolerated as long as the demographics trend in the younger direction. So I think Blundell sticks around for a couple of books at least. And by that time, the clock is almost up on McCown and B&W have established themselves in the afternoons and hopefully built a brand that is different enough from PTS. If B&W can survive in the advertising wasteland that is weekday afternoons on radio & TV, they might just end up with the best time slot in all of Canada.


Over to you: Tim & Sid listeners, what are you hoping for out of Brady & Walker? Will you go over to Hayes instead? Hayes listeners, does Brady & Walker intrigue you where T&S failed to?


The Bell Tolls for Thee


James Bradshaw of the Globe hopefully earned himself a new contract and a fat raise with the awesome work he did this week. In case you missed the background to this story, the CRTC delivered a string of decisions that angered Bell (and presumably other media companies). I covered some of these rulings last week. The president of Bell, a Mr. Kevin Crull, then tried to influence how Bell owned media companies, like CTV, covered the story. He would have gotten away with it except that senior journalists at CTV balked and the gory details of his meddling eventually leaked out. The head of the CRTC, Mr. Jean-Pierre Blais, issued strong rebuke of Crull’s conduct, and the latter then issued a weak “teachable moment” apology.


Two thoughts about this story. First, the fact that this story was broken by the Globe ought to put an end to the accusations (see Damien Cox’s twitter feed) that people like the Globe’s David Shoalts are bought and paid for by Bell (15% owners of the Globe). This story has cast a dark shadow over all of Bell’s news operations, and if Bell were truly dictating to the Globe then there is no way this breaks. This makes Bell look terrible as a company.


Suppose you’re CTV and you are trying to hire a talented journalist. You now have to overcome this person’s legitimate fears of being pressured by your corporate overlords. Mr. Crull can say “it was wrong of me to be anything but absolutely clear that editorial control always rests with the news team” but his actions speak much more loudly. You can’t un-press this button in terms of public perception.


Second, this ought to put an end to the trite comments sports media people often make that “no one has ever told me what to say” as a way of demonstrating their independence from the media companies that pay their salaries. Regardless of whether anyone has ever been told directly what to say, it is pretty plausible that this kind of corporate influence is pervasive. If you’re in a lower tier position and your boss tells you to downplay some angle or to cut a certain story or to have a certain guest on rather than another, you’re going to do it. Depending on the kind of media job you have, you may not even know that this is happening.


My point is that the wall between ownership interests and editorial independence needs constant reinforcement and repair. With our beloved MLSE now owning most of the local sports teams while at the same time being owned by the main sports media companies, this wall is maximally vulnerable. Further, this is sports we are talking about, not foreign policy. So if Bell comes to TSN and says “hey, we’d like you to downplay the discounted Leafs tickets on the secondary market story for the time being” and gives you some incentive for doing so, then it’s not like lives are at stake. We would all like to think that our integrity cannot be bought for any price, but that’s just silly. There’s a lot of room for interpretation on what constitutes a breach of ethics, and under the right conditions doing what your boss asks is the most rational course of action.


If you think Crull is the exception, I would disagree. His actions are not those of someone trying to hide what he is doing. He clearly didn’t think anyone would say no. As Bradshaw describes the details of the case, Crull’s meddling was successful at all rungs along the ladder except for the last one. You don’t get to be the president of a company like Bell or Rogers by deferring to others. These people have strong wills and probably spend a lot of their time telling people what to do. To think that the sports department is immune from these pressures is, in my opinion, naive. Crull just made everyone’s life at TSN that much harder.


Side Swipes


In response to recent stories about people stalking athletes and issuing threats to Hollywood celebrities TSN1050’s Matt Cauz had this to say: “You should have to give your social insurance number to be on Twitter! It’s a public forum!”


No, Matt, it’s not. It’s a website. It’s a website that lots of people choose to use for entertainment and news. Everyone has the choice to turn off notifications, or make their account private, or do as Damien Cox does and block people who say things you don’t like. Your beef is primarily with the people who run Twitter. If you don’t like the way Twitter polices their community, then don’t use it. Or, start pressuring them to change their policies … perhaps you can come up with a clever hashtag movement.


Here’s why this is a bad take. Death threats and other communications of criminal intent are already illegal. The fact that they take place on Twitter doesn’t change that. What about anonymity? If people commit torts or crimes via Tweet then the police and the courts already have all the authority they need to track these people down. We don’t need to give Twitter our SINs in order for them to trace us. I suppose if you’re a super hacker then you can evade detection but let’s be honest: the people you are worried about are sad and lonely men and boys who are tweeting from home.


The problem is not the lack of identifying information. The problem is that people want Twitter to be as open as possible when it serves their promotional interests but want it to be closed when the idiot brigade shows up. You can’t have it both ways. If you want a direct line of communication to the people, be prepared not to like some of what the people have to say. Yes, Twitter could do a much better job banning users. That said, large companies have been known to use YouTube’s DMCA policies to shut down competing products rather than defend their own. So, there is also a chance that good intentions can go very wrong in practice.


In sum: let’s all agree that no one should be subject to criminal harassment but also remember that Twitter is a social network and not a town hall.


If you have recently found a Jeff O’Neill shaped hole in your life then this week was like Christmas morning and Steve Buffery was your Santa Claus. The Sun sent Buffery down the chimney and he delivered 4740 words on the intricacies of what makes O’Neill tick. You can see why Buffery wanted to write this profile. Few people in the local sports media are more complex than the O-Dog. Some have referred to him as the most interesting man in all of Toronto sports.


O’Neill is best known for his tell-it-as-it-occurs-to-me style. O-Dog fan Bryan Hayes is quoted in the piece: “That is what makes him a star in my opinion. He doesn’t have a filter. If something pops into his head, he’s going with it.”


This kind of in-depth profiling could become a whole series for Buffery. I look forward to his next piece on Gregg Zaun featuring quotes by Jamie Campbell on how being around the Zauntourage changed his life. After that, I want to know everything about Blundell &Co member Halina Balka … her political views, her analysis of the state of city planning, her favourite bars, what kind of car she drives. Everything.


Quick Hits


Ryerson hosted an event called “From the Starting Blocks to the Finish Line” featuring several prominent female sports media personalities telling their stories about working in the industry. J-Source live-blogged the event.


A federal judge in the U.S. rejected a motion to dismiss the concussion lawsuit brought by former NHL players against the NHL. When this newe broke on Thursday I clicked around both the Star and the Post’s sports sections but couldn’t find it. Odd. Maybe they were late getting to it. Rick Westhead is all over the legal intricacies of this story for TSN.


Obama’s final gift to the American taxpayer might be to ban using public debt to finance privately owned pro sports stadiums. Slate has a great story on how rather than distant cities fighting each other for teams, municipalities within the same region have been offering up public financing to woo teams a few feet this way or that.


Each of the last few weeks I have been wanting to devote significant space to Jays related matters but keep hitting my word limit. If I had space to discuss it I would talk about the Steve Delabar demotion and the current youth movement for 2015. In the meantime, read Cathal Kelly great piece on the Delabar situation.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • Bob McCown protégé Ken Reid continues to frustrate the audience and seems to be moving on to the guests as well. I’m pretty sure one of them straight-up ignored one of his silly questions this week.


  • Some people asked me to comment on Lanny McDonald’s testy replies to Bob’s questions during their interview. In my opinion, there’s no there there. He’s just a guy.


  • Best wishes to Tim & Sid as they return to TV. Their radio work was strongest as a one hour weekly podcast, so maybe this will eventually lead to the return of their formerly great Uncut show. I never listened to Jay & Dan’s podcast but from what I recall it was quite popular.


  • This week in Twitter battles featured Andrew Stoeten vs Mark Hebscher: “@hebsyman Please stop ruining my fond memories of the Hebsy Awards by being a tool. Thanks.” It’s no Pacquiao-Mayweather but we’ll take it.


  • Good week for PTS producer Ryan Walsh: Jonah Keri, Darren Rovell, Rob Becker, Richard Deitsch. This really helps break up the monotony of local celebrities, and Rogers staff. Other than the always excellent Howard Bryant from ESPN, TSN Drive couldn’t compete this week. That said, they didn’t have Shannon or Reid as co-hosts …




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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