Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. Forgive the self-indulgence of what follows. I try to make these columns mostly about opinions rather than about myself but in this case the two ended up merging.

 

Signing Off

 

When I was a kid my parents banned TV from the house. They believed it turned brains to mush and that it contained bad messages. As a result I missed out on many staples of Canadian childhood. The consequence of the lack of TV in the house was that I spent all my time listening to the radio. And it was through listening to radio that I developed a deep appreciation for the craft of sports talk. Like most kids in Toronto I loved the Jays and stayed up every night listening to Tom & Jerry, followed by Scott Ferguson taking your calls. I still can feel the disappointment when 1430 would switch back to oldies after the game.

 

When CJCL announced they were going all sports it was like winning the lottery. Sports talk all day? I promptly asked for a new Walkman (sports model) with a beefed up exterior and long battery life for my birthday. I would sneak an ear bud in during class to catch Howard Berger’s Leafs line-up updates so I would know whether Ken Baumgartner would be on the 4th line that night. Do you remember Ken’s first full season as a Leaf? I remember the goal he scored for his one and only point in 63 games that year.

 

 

Like so many of you I grew up with sports radio as the soundtrack to my formative years. As a teenager I would eagerly await the media columns in each of the the papers. We subscribed to the Saturday Globe and reading the sports section was the weekend’s highlight. My favourite column was William Houston’s “Truth & Rumours” since the names I listened to every day would sometimes appear there as their contracts came due for renewal or the station made programming changes. Houston’s columns provided a peek behind the curtain of the world’s most fascinating industry, at least to me. This led me to seek out Chris Zelkovich’s column in the Star and to dig through old piles of copies of the Sun at work to see if Longley had written about media for the Sun.

 

I have been a reader of this site since it launched and I wrote my first Seen & Heard column here in October 2013. Over the last 4 years writing about media has been easy. Two sports radio stations, two networks, a handful of smaller players, 4 newspapers, loads of business of sports news, and big egos occasionally slagging the competition. The stories almost write themselves. The writing has been easy in part because of the wealth of content but also because I was consuming so much of the content in my daily life: 30-60 minutes of reading over breakfast, podcasts throughout the day or at the gym, more listening while making dinner, then more reading on the couch.

 

Since I was consuming so much it was not hard to provide mostly balanced coverage and find something to say about almost everyone. Like any human being I have my own tastes, but every week I would try to wipe the slate clean and look for the best in sports media, while encountering plenty of low hanging fruit to write about.

 

I have had professional interactions with most people in the industry during this time. Some have politely declined to talk to me, some have done so not so politely, but most have understood that this is primarily a fan site. People who don’t care don’t take the time write their thoughts and reach out to carry on the discussion. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has written or called and started the conversation with “if you’re going to write about media, let me tell you how things really work …” And that has worked out well, with a few exceptions. The overwhelming majority of people I talk to are professionals who care about their work, are frustrated by lazy journalism and reporting, are open to constructive criticism, and can maintain minimal standards of decency even when they disagree with something they read here.

 

My goal with this column has been to talk about things worth talking about. I have not sought to break news or get a lead on the hot rumour about the next big change. Almost everything that has appeared here is analysis of things that have already happened. I have never pretended to be anything other than a consumer of sports media. Yet, as the media columns completely disappeared from the mainstream Canadian media landscape I have felt an increasing pressure to write about the industry rather than just my own opinions of the work people are producing. As one source put it to me about a brewing controversy “if you guys don’t write about it no one else will, and then no one will ever know about it.”

 

Some time in the last 4 years the focus of my writing shifted from being an advocate for the viewer/listener/reader to being a voice for people in the industry itself. That’s not easy as an outsider and it’s not a role I enjoy. If there are issues that need light shone on them then shouldn’t there be an outlet with more credibility than two “anonymous” bloggers?

 

But that’s the strange state of sports media in 2017. Almost everyone draws a cheque from Bell and Rogers. Few people have the stature to speak out without risking their meal ticket. At the same time accountability to the audience has all but disappeared. The professional media criticism columns are gone. Comments sections are disappearing. The Program Directors don’t talk to the audience anymore. Networks have a lot at stake in protecting their relationships with the leagues they cover. In newspapers, sports editors are also becoming a thing of the past. The sports media world that exists now is, oddly, both consequence-free and extremely precarious for those in it.

 

 

All of this brings me to today. I have written at length about the failure of Sportsnet to put women in positions where their opinions matter in Toronto. In the 25 years I have been listening to the FAN the only woman with a prominent voice has been Barb DiGiulio, who provided a pop/entertainment diversion from the real sports talk. In the last year Scott Moore and Dave Cadeau have made 5 on-air hires at the FAN: all white men. The lack of movement on the issue of diversity by the industry leader can only be interpreted as a hostility to giving women a place on the air where it matters what they say rather than what they look like.

 

With all due respect to the people working there, I can’t in good conscience continue to listen to a station whose values are so different from my own.

 

Up the dial, TSN1050 is now 6 months in to the great experiment of running syndicated American programming from 10-11am. When the station launched we shook our heads at their decision to air non-local programming as competition to the FAN. You are TSN. Your brand is the biggest name in sports in Canada and has been for 30 years. Use that to your advantage. It is exactly that hubris that informed TSN1050’s approach to local programming. Rather than competing with the FAN with their strongest personalities they brought in a bunch of people from outside the market to talk to Torontonians. The assumption seemed to be that slapping the TSN logo on any show would instantly draw listeners.

 

After 6 years of failure to make a mark on the market PD Jeff MacDonald has decided the best strategy is to let people hear about the NCAA and the Washington Wizards at a time when all the local teams are playing or making news. The cherry on top is that they just gave a radio show to Dart Guy. We can talk about the optics of this move another day, but the message there is that they want to air a “fan-friendly” radio show. Great! How about taking that same attitude towards a time of day when plenty of people are still grinding their way into work? If you really want to air American programming, why not save that for evenings or on weekends?

 

I can’t in good conscience spend time listening to a station that has no idea what it is doing with local radio.

 

I have greatly enjoyed writing about radio over the last 4 years but I have not listened to either station for months and don’t plan to start again any time soon. I have switched to weekly podcasts and will continue to seek out other good listening in that format. I have the luxury of not being stuck on the QEW at any point during the week so there is simply no reason for me to listen to daily sports talk radio. It’s not for me.

 

Once you subtract radio you’ve lost half of Seen & Heard. So I am going to retire this column for the time being. I will continue to write about issues as they arise and try to read as much as possible and highlight good (and bad) work there when I can. If someone else wants to take up the challenge of covering local radio, now would be a good time to send us some pitches.

 

Quick Hits

 

I am trying to get as much background as possible before writing about the Jays tumultuous off-season. After Game 162, the Jays announced they were reorganizing media relations. Around the same time Stroman put the media on blast on Twitter for not being team-friendly enough, rumours broke about a Sportsnet personality having affairs with multiple Blue Jays, Shapiro decided to buy advertorial content in the Sun, and several critical articles were written — some by the Sun — about the priorities of the front office. Whether there are cause and effect relations between any of these events is something to which I have not yet received a clear answer. It will be interesting to see how these events shape the coverage the team receives in spring training, and whether we will see any changes on the team broadcast front.

 

Awful Announcing is reporting that ESPN might be prepping for another round of cuts. The obvious motivation would to shed salaries to compensate for the lost revenue due to cord-cutting. This would protect the stock price by keeping profits high. The question I have is how much more can they (and Sportnset/TSN) cut before they run out of programming or seriously dilute its quality? This connects to the loss of The Reporters on TV and radio. Presumably TSN’s reasoning was “we can put something else on that will be cheaper”. If you follow the logic of that reasoning then most shows could be replaced with something cheaper, like American syndicated programming for example. Don’t forget that the very expensive Tim & Sid show replaced a highlights loop that drew about as well as their current show draws. Even though Tim&Sid is not for me, I think original programming can be good and networks should invest in it. That said, is there a nearby future where the daily TV schedule is highlights shows on loop until the pre-game show? I hope not, but the trend seems to be that studio shows are getting too expensive.

 

The Globe reported this week that the new CEO is talking about dumping non-key assets. The media division is a tiny part of the overall revenue portfolio and would yield a huge cash infusion to invest in other units. It’s interesting to imagine a world where Rogers doesn’t own the Jays. Think about how this would instantly remove the endless “shill” discussion that surrounds their Jays coverage. At the same time, I wonder how many Jays media Sportsnet would keep if they were no longer the sole voice of the team? If TSN were to get some Jays games down the road it would be a great thing for consumers. Right now they ignore baseball for the most part, relying on out of town commentators to carry the heavy load. They also didn’t send anyone to the World Series. Leafs fan have a lot of choice when it comes to coverage. It would be nice if Jays fans had similar options. Another interesting thing to think about is how valuable the Dome would be to a prospective buyer given that the land underneath it belongs to the Crown. Could a buyer take the team but not the stadium? Could that lead one day to a new stadium back at the Ex next to BMO?

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • Many sites ask you to disable ad-blockers. Sportsnet recently started being one:

 

 

  • I fully support sites asking regular readers to endure some ads for the sake of the content they are reading. I have whitelisted all the newspaper sites I visit. There is something galling about Sportsnet — the home of embedding unrelated videos with sometimes two ads into stories — asking people to look at even more ads. As I have written before, Sportsnet should have two sites: one for all their “you gotta see this!!!?!” and “watch Sid eat a hot dog??!?!” and one for their respectable journalism. Wedging the two together devalues the latter and means I likely won’t read.

 

 

have a good Saturday everyone

talk to you down the road

mike

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 28
  • comment-avatar
    Drumanchor 2 weeks

    I invariably enjoy your columns most Saturdays and appreciate the time and energy you put into them. Sad to see you moving on but times and priorities change, so there is nothing wrong with recognizing that. It’s healthy. Best of luck in the future and look forward to seeing you here at some point in the future.

  • comment-avatar

    Sad to see you’re going to be writing less.
    On a side note, anyone else notice that ever since the Jackie Redmond sleeping with Estrada and Donaldson news broke, she is nowhere to be found on social media? Guess we all gotta lie in the bed that we made, choices have consequences, sleeping your way to the top probably isn’t the best choice.

  • comment-avatar
    Curt 2 weeks

    Sad to see you go, MIB. Your column was easily the best part of this site. But I understand why you need to move on. Thanks for your work.

  • comment-avatar
    Sam 2 weeks

    Thanks mike.

  • comment-avatar

    In reply to abbydarren, Jackie Redmond is on Twiiter almost every day, so get your facts straight.

  • comment-avatar
    Paul 2 weeks

    I have also migrated over to podcasts over the last couple of years as part of my commute, some of which are sports related. Perhaps you can expand your column to discussing some of the interesting Toronto sports podcasts out there.

  • comment-avatar
    Carl A 2 weeks

    I would like to know why when Ken Reid is overshadowed by his female cohost it’s him that keeps on showing up on other shows like PTS. This is proof of favouritism. On another subject I see more so called articles which are just a compilation of tweets on one subject. Is this what’s passing for journalism now?

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 2 weeks

    abbydarren, I would like to know why you singled out Redmond for criticism, but not Estrada or Donaldson? Do you work for 590?

  • comment-avatar
    Paul G. 2 weeks

    I will miss your fine coverage of the airwaves, however your decision only serves to increase my respect for your standards. For a long time now, we have accepted and commented on Bob McCown (I am a fan, but also realistic) “mailing it in” on days when the lineup is of little interest to him.

    You have decided that if your heart is no longer in it; you will walk away and apply yourself elsewhere.. Such a choice ultimately benefits your readers as they will in the future see the results of your coverage in areas you are sincerely passionate about. I look forward to your reading your new endeavours and thank you for the fine contributions over the years.

  • comment-avatar
    Daniel 2 weeks

    Thank you for your posts and your time! Really enjoyed your writing.

  • comment-avatar
    Daniel 2 weeks

    I know what you mean about not loving the current state of Toronto sports radio. I try to download Blair/Brunt or McCown if I like the topic, and other than that it’s all podcasts for me. Lebatard, birds all day, radiolab etc. Feels like there’s a lot more innovation in podcasts at the moment.

  • comment-avatar
    Pete 2 weeks

    Thanks for everything Mike. I actually find this post quite ironic considering within the last month I’ve personally made a conscious effort to avoid Toronto radio myself, and I feel like I’ve lost nothing. This must be the lowest quality of radio in this city since I started listening 25 years ago. Both morning shows suck. OverDrive is amateur hour in a prime time slot and I no longer see any fascination. If it weren’t for McCown still conducting quality interviews at times when he sets his heart into it, all the while keeping Cox in his place, the whole landscape would be a complete write-off.

    I check this site multiple times throughout the day hoping a new thread or new member responses would show up. But totally understand why this is being done. Will continue to check in though hoping to find a nugget. Luck.

  • comment-avatar
    mario 2 weeks

    Thanks for all your hard work MIke . Always looked forward to your articles you will be missed. Best of luck in the future.

  • comment-avatar
    yaz 2 weeks

    Say it ain’t so.

  • comment-avatar

    Sports Radio in the area really has not developed and I can’t help but blame the fact that the two giant media corps. own essentially all the content in the area. I think the tv sports update shows have suffered equally for the same reason.

    I actually enjoy the fact that TSN Hamilton plays the full Dan Patrick show as I enjoy the show and rather listen to it than most of the personalities on both radio stations. It doesn’t fulfill my hockey fix, but given how much I enjoy NFL/MLB/College Football, the show is good for me. For that reason I don’t blame TSN radio for putting some U.S. content on the airwaves.

    All the best in what you do moving forward.

    Long reader, rarely comment.

    CHeers!

  • comment-avatar
    Anthony 2 weeks

    @abbydarren

    what? Shes made like 3/4 tweets a day from what I see. If your going to rip her over a rumour, at least make it factual

  • comment-avatar
    CowboysKanuck 2 weeks

    Damn, I really enjoyed reading your posts every Saturday. Sorry to hear you’ll be contributing less often, Mike.

  • comment-avatar
    Liberty Village Bob 2 weeks

    Agree with Daniel and others that this line-up is as bad as I can remember. If Todd the Tickler joins Landsberg it will be more proof that if you’re a white dude then you’ll always have a place on sports radio. Is there really no one better?

    I’m at the point where I think of sports radio like I think about youtube comments or Twitter replies. It’s a place where the dumbest people hang out and yell at each other.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve 2 weeks

    Thanks for all your work over the past years. I haven’t listened to Toronto radio in a long time but I still enjoyed your pieces.

    Looking forward to more general media posts from you when required in the future.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jones 2 weeks

    While I was the never the heavy listener I was a regular listener of the the current and former sports radio stations in the city. And like many here I have also gone down to basically zero hours weekly. The only time in tune in is to Bob. If he has something interesting I will listen. If I happen to tune in at 4 or 5 and hear the upcoming guest list and no one appeals to me I don’t go back. It happens all the time. I never thought Bob would succumb to Rogers need to showcase their talent in at least 2 segments per hour.

    The why is the same as most. Generic hosts. Generic guests. Far too often the same Rogers voices. The same tired topics. Yes Matthews is good. I get it. Of special note is….the Good Show? It’s petty, but worst name ever? More to the point Ennis is unlistenable. He’s doing hot takes when he isn’t doing hot takes. Bunkis seems to know his stuff but he goes so deep that unless you are completely immersed in a sport it’s complete overkill. They need to tell him he’s not there to do in-depth analysis he’s there to entertain people.

    So what on the playlist. Same as everyone, pods. Lots of pods. Too many in fact. And that’s OK.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch 2 weeks

    Good on you Mike! We shouldn’t give them the attention they don’t deserve! To say the radio landscape is dead in Toronto is not even an understatement. As others have mentioned, boring whitewashed generic hosts with boring cheerleading employeed guests on rotation. They offer nothing. They are all just collective drones for their employer and enough is enough. Yes, Hayes and his crew can be entertaining, but nothing worth writing about. There are no real opinions anymore, just shills. Ennis’ hot takes are lukewarm at best and he really does just come off as saying them for the sake of yelling and presenting faux-interest. Bob has mailed it in for 5 years now and his co-hosts are sleeping pills. Could the Fan morning show be any worse? I really don’t think so.
    Bottom line: those stations continue to be commercial spots for their entities and not worth talking or writing about. I fully support your decision though I do always enjoy reading your articles.

  • comment-avatar
    BingoBangoBongo 2 weeks

    I didn’t agree with you very often Mike but I appreciate the time and effort you put into this website. Your passion for the industry is evident. I agree that more women on the radio would be nice, and that there are some women who would be very good.Meghan McPeak on TSN is exceptional.Michelle Sturino on NHL radio is very good. Andi Petrillo.in my opinion, isn’t. She knows hockey (not as well as Sturino) but the ” girlie” stuff is a real turnoff. Just my opinion. But therein lies the problem with women in sports radio. The audience is mostly male and is much more critical of women on air. Is that fair? Probably not, but that has to be a consideration to any programmer. Women have come a long way in the business. There was a time when the only female voice you heard was either doing news or traffic. Usually traffic. That’s not the case anymore. Women like Erin Davis , Marilyn Dennis and Maureen Holloway are giants in the business and rightly so. Maybe sports radio just needs a little more time.

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    Steven 2 weeks

    I remember listening to a podcast that James Mirtle was on where he was asked about the lack of diversity at the Athletic. His responce was ‘it is what it is, its an industry issue’, and then moved on. I guess they don’t see the need to change, just as other broadcasters and print mediums don’t see the need for change. Its amazing the lack of perspective some have, congrats Mike, best of luck.

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 2 weeks

    It’s disgusting to see Bruce Arthur use Doc’s death as an opportunity to slag the Blue Jays.

    We get it, Bruce, they fired some of your best inside sources and you’re all lost at sea, but don’t drag Doc and his family into it.

  • comment-avatar
    yaz 2 weeks

    I guess the hiring of Dart Guy pushed you over the edge.

  • comment-avatar
    Daniel 1 week

    Thanks again to TSM and Mike for their time and posts. Hope we’ll see posts continue in some form. Even just weekly open threads?

  • comment-avatar
    Ziggy 1 week

    James Mirtle was on where he was asked about the lack of diversity at the Athletic. His responce was ‘it is what it is, its an industry issue’, and then moved on.

    That was on Toronto Mike’d. I noted that as well. Diversity isn’t a priority at the athletic.

  • comment-avatar

    Thanks Daniel. We are still trying to figure out what the best use of this space is.