by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
Erika Gonzalez is the lead consumer reporter for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. I recently spoke with her about her recent promotion, life in D.C. over the last three years, and much more.
First of all, congrats on the promotion! How do you like the new gig?
Erika Gonzalez: I will say that ‘refreshing’ is an understatement. To be able to not only work Monday through Friday night but also come into a team of individuals that has been honing this craft and this department for years…it’s been great. Liz Crenshaw left behind some really big shoes to fill and my management team here has been phenomenal in making sure that I not only found my footing but that I also took off running. They have helped make the transition seamless. There didn’t need to be an overhauling, I didn’t need to come into something that was in pieces or a wreck. It was a success story. The biggest homework assignment is making sure that the brand continues to ride that wave of success, yet at the same time evolve. It’s been a lot of fun, there have been a lot of wonderful projects that we’ve been able to tackle.
What are some of the biggest differences and/or similarities you’ve noticed working as a consumer reporter?
EG: I think the biggest thing in shifting from general assignment to consumer is that often times in general assignment you run into the dilemma of ‘How do I make this important to someone that doesn’t live in the area where this incident happened?’ Whereas in consumer, whether you make $20 thousand or $20 million, everybody is a consumer. And so the news that we report affects everybody, no matter where they live or how much money they make.
Also, consumer reporting in my eyes is still storytelling. I’ve tried not to look at my career as a journalist but I want to be a great storyteller. And so when I approached this it was, ‘I’m gonna take off this hat, this storytelling hat, and I’m gonna put on another one.’ But I’m still not a fact-finder or a fact giver, I’m a storyteller. And so now I’ve got to learn how to tell a story with a different focus.
And it’s still finding contacts and reaching out to people…thankfully we have a really broad base of individuals that we work with on a frequent basis. It’s kind of been more of a listening tour and meeting these people that we’ve already dealt with on a regular basis. Just approaching them and asking, ‘What have you liked? What is it about the consumer brand at WRC that you’ve enjoyed? What is it that you would like to see more of, or that you think we haven’t done at all?’ Before coming in and saying, ‘We’re going to do this, this and this,’ it’s really been an approach of, ‘Let’s listen first. Let’s listen and get some feedback from those that we’re serving, and find out if they want to see more of something, less of something, or a brand new side of something.’
How’s working in Washington, specifically at WRC?
EG: I’m so thankful for the management eye at WRC because I think if I had seen myself a couple years ago, I would’ve said, ‘No, she probably needs more time.’ This is the first station that has placed such an emphasis on me growing as an individual, as a journalist, as a woman, as a human being. I am better because they have invested in me. Because they have seen the potential. Because they have said there is work there, there is value there, and we’re gonna continue to play into that until we are really getting the fullest out of Erika. And I’m so thankful for them- they’ve given me the opportunity and the platform to grow. Gratitude is an understatement for what I feel. I’m so honored to work with colleagues that have been in this business and have been doing it damn good for years. For them to take me under their wing and show me how they’ve been able to do it successfully- I’m grateful.
You’re a Texas native… how does D.C. compare?
EG: It’s not Texas, that’s for sure. I’m a Texas snob, one of those ‘say it loud, say it proud’ people. But I will say that the audience here has been so gracious in embracing me and my growth. I think the biggest moments when I feel appreciated in this town are when individuals say, ‘Congrats, we’ve been watching you since you started, and the growth- wow!’ Everybody grows in their careers and the good and the bad part about TV is that you grow in front of an audience. The D.C.-Virginia-Maryland area has been so gracious in allowing me to grow before their eyes and transition into new projects. I’ve felt overwhelming support and I feel welcomed here and I finally feel like I have found my groove, like I’ve found my niche. It feels good now. It really does.
I think the fact that I so often say I’m from Texas- there are so many people here that understand that because people here are not really from D.C. I mean there are of course the ones that are, but it’s really such a hodgepodge of people that are from all over the place, and it really is a place where the best of the best come and spend some time and try to make this country a better place. It really is the epicenter of what happens in the rest of the country. And that’s in my backyard and it doesn’t get old. It still boggles my mind to look out over the Washington cityscape and think, ‘This is where I live now. This is where I make deposits, this is my community.’ It’s incredible to see that.
by Michael Sones and Oritt Blum
Sean Wheelock is currently the play-by-play announcer for Bellator Fighting Championships. He has also commentated on the Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup, and tennis US Open. On July 1st, Sean and Art Davie released their book, ‘Is This Legal?’ We recently had a chance to catch up with Sean about the book and much more.
Can you talk to us about where the idea for the book, ‘Is This Legal?’ came from, as well as your role in the overall process?
Sean Wheelock: Art Davie and I have been really good friends for a few years. He’s absolutely – and I think the book shows it – the rightful creator of mixed martial arts. He wasn’t the first person to have the idea, but he was the first person to be able to make the idea work. I knew for quite a while I wanted to do something with Art, and I wasn’t sure exactly what that was, but I felt like this was a guy who has lots of history, which is crazy since the sport is only 21 years old. Several years ago I started getting him to talk on my digital audio recorder, telling stories and pitching around ideas of what to do with them and it evolved into, “Hey, there has never been a written account of how all this got started, let’s do a book!”
My two key contributions as Art’s co-writer are 1) taking all of Art’s great stories and putting them into a cohesive narrative, and 2) making sure that we’re spot on with all the details, because memories are a funny thing, a slippery thing. To try to get somebody to recount in order, in detail, stuff that happened over 20 years ago is obviously a difficult process.
I knew I wanted the book to just be the story of the first UFC, not a sweeping comprehensive thing. It’s something that reads as timeless, you can read it now or you can read it in 50 years. It begins on November 12, 1993 and ends with the party the next night, November 13. We build up to the fights, but the whole book encompasses Art’s dedication to launching the UFC – he quit his day job, threw in his money, did everything to get this going. It’s really about his four year struggle – and I don’t use that word struggle lightly – and all the rejections. HBO said no, Showtime, ESPN, Prime Ticket in LA. One thing that was really fortunate for me is that Art, aside from being an amazing story teller, is a very prolific saver. We have these original faxes- these rejection letters, these pitch letters, his original business plan, the original contract with Semaphore Entertainment Group, I mean all of these really historical documents.
You touched on it a little bit but can you talk more in depth about the collaboration, from start to finish, between yourself and Art on this book?
SW: Art and I talked a lot about, how do we write this? We discussed making it an oral history, where we interview twenty or twenty-five key people, and the whole narrative is driven that way. There’s a really good book on the American Basketball Association that’s an oral history, as well as a book on the anniversary of Saturday Night Live. But I kept coming back to the fact that my best character is my guy right here, Art Davie, and it’s going to be the most compelling book if it’s told through him.
Art would write sections, I would rewrite sections, sometimes I would leave them alone. I would pepper him with questions and he would write up answers for me. We would go back and forth on it to where we didn’t really have individual ownership of paragraphs or sentences. It’s funny, as I read the book now, I can’t remember which lines he wrote and which lines I wrote – we really became a writing team. Art was there, even on the finished manuscript, going back and rereading everything. The fact that we already had a close friendship made it a lot easier than if I was just a hired gun. It’s working with somebody as a close friend and it really was a total collaboration.
Another thing, too, is that because I’m such a hardcore MMA fan, aside from being a commentator, I was asking questions that I would want to know if I was reading the book. I was driving him crazy with questions- why this date, why here, why this guy, why not that guy? That’s something that Art, working with a different writer or by himself, probably wouldn’t have anticipated.
I really could not be more proud of this book. A friend of mine, who’s a writer, said you really become more of a rewriter than a writer and that’s so true. You finish your manuscript and you think you’re done but you’re probably 20% done. And you shift and you move and you write and you rewrite and you rewrite some more. It’s a very interesting process.
How did you and Art come up with the book title, ‘Is This Legal?’
SW: The title actually comes from Chuck Norris. During the summer of 1993, when they were closing in on that first event in November, Art and his business partner Rorian Gracie were looking for commentators. Gracie had done a few seminars with Chuck Norris, so they were able to schedule a meeting at Norris’ mansion in LA. Norris was in his 50s back then, and they didn’t think he would fight, but they were offering him essentially the keys to the kingdom- he could commentate, hang out, sign autographs, anything at all. They just wanted him involved. While he was being pitched, Norris just kept asking the question, “Is this legal?” He was in disbelief that they were going to put guys bare-fisted in a caged enclosure, with virtually no rules. He didn’t see how they would be able to make this happen without the police shutting them down. We kicked around different titles for a long time and we kept coming back to ‘Is This Legal?’ and it’s been 100% positive- people really seem to respond to that title.
Take us through the process of how you got the book published.
SW: I had a lot of publishers tell me that it was a cool story but MMA fans just don’t read. I think if you talk to any of the TV people at Spike or Fox Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network, they would tell you that the MMA demographic is educated and literate. But for whatever reason, the publishing world hadn’t yet jumped on it. We found a really nice publisher called Ascend Books that basically does all sports non-fiction. They didn’t know anything about MMA but were open to the idea. They liked the story so we just started rolling.
Yesterday I saw that on Amazon’s rankings, for whatever this is worth, we were number 30 for all sports biographies. I think there was a Jackie Robinson bio that was 29 and we were right after, so it felt like we were in pretty rarified air. The book has only been out since July 1st, so I don’t know what it means or if this is the next Harry Potter, but it is a cool little feeling.
One of our main takeaways from reading this book is that you don’t have to necessarily be a UFC fan to enjoy reading it.
SW: I was really aware of the fact that I had to write this book for a broader audience, so someone who doesn’t like MMA can be sucked in. It’s more than a dry book about the sport, it’s a story about someone being an entrepreneur on a four year quest, being told no over and over. It also helped that Art happened to be in Los Angeles during the late ’80s and early ’90s, where there were a lot of interesting characters to filter through. You look at the index of the book and it’s amazing the boldfaced names: Chuck Norris, John Milius, Mike Tyson, Hulk Hogan, Charleton Heston, even Donald Trump.
Were you inspired by any particular authors or books while writing this?
SW: There were a couple of books that were inspirations for me. One was Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball because if you think about it, what a pitch to a publisher. Lewis is a great writer but a book about the baseball economics of the Oakland A’s – I mean, that’s just about the worst topic ever. And yet, baseball people love it, Brad Pitt made a movie out of it, and people who have zero interest in baseball, let alone baseball economics, ate the book up. It’s an amazing book because it’s not really about baseball, it’s about people, it’s about characters, relationships, and innovative thinking.
Another book that really influenced me, David McCullough’s book on American Revolutionary History – I’m midway through and I think the British might actually win, I think they’re going to kill George Washington and crush the Continental Army. He wrote it so compellingly and it was such a page turner that even though obviously you know how it’s going to turn out, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Sort of like what James Cameroon did with Titanic.
The early reviews that we’ve been getting suggest that people are picking up on what we tried to do above all else, which is make this a page turner. This was a house of cards, it wasn’t predestined to succeed. Everybody was against Art- the martial arts community, the sports community, the television community, even Chuck Norris. Everyone was telling him it was the worst idea, that he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. And I’m writing it like that. It’s living in the moment, being sucked in, saying this is a complete house of cards, this is probably going to collapse at any second, this is probably not going to happen.
You can purchase a copy of Sean and Art’s book in stores or find it online here.
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
Tanya Rivero anchors Lunch Break, the noon show on the digital platform Wall Street Journal Live. I recently spoke with Tanya about her new gig, the transition from television to digital, and what it takes to be a successful anchor.
Talk about your current gig a little bit. You started in April- how has the first month been so far?
Tanya Rivero: It’s been great, I love it so far. It’s a great group of people and the show is a lot of fun! It’s a nice mix of hard news, health, culture, lifestyle and finance. Everything that I enjoy reporting on. It really has been great.
This is your first time anchoring on a digital channel. Has it been an easy transition from television?
Rivero: I think that with Wall Street Journal Live, the audience is expected and is understood to be highly educated and accomplished. So there isn’t as much of an attempt to speak past the audience. A lot of the stories on the show are geared towards the audience and not necessarily to the broadest possible audience, which is usually what broadcast news aims for. So we’re allowed to be a little more intelligent and go into a little more depth in certain fields. It’s interesting and I really enjoy speaking to this audience. For me it was a very natural transition.
You grew up in New York and have worked here for your entire career. That has to be pretty nice…
Rivero: It is! But I have nothing to compare it to because like you said, I started my career in New York and have been here the whole time. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I’m a die hard New Yorker and I love this job! There are so many stories here- on the local level, on the national level and on the international level. So I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to have my entire career here. Plus my family lives here and my husband’s family lives here, so there are a lot of reasons to be in New York beyond just the job.
What do you believe separates a great anchor from the rest?
Rivero: I think it’s the ability to really listen, especially when you’re doing a live interview. You can come in prepared but sometimes you might have a preconceived notion as to where the conversation will go or what your questions will be. I think you really have to listen and respond to the answers and not just worry about your next question. And I think real love for breaking news and the adrenaline that kicks in- you need all of that to be a good anchor. I also think approachability is important. You need a persona that people can relate to and find approachable. I think all of that is what makes the difference.
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
Liam McHugh hosts NHL Live and Countdown to Kickoff for NBC Sports. He has also covered the Olympics, Tour de France and college basketball.
I recently spoke with Liam about life behind the set, his favorite memories from Sochi, and his jump from a small town in Indiana to the New York City area.
Talk about your gig as host of NHL Live. I’m sure it’s pretty hectic right now with all the early round games…
Liam McHugh: It’s been absolutely great, mainly because of the games themselves. But yes, it’s a busy time of year. It’s one of those situations where I get in the office around 2:30 in the afternoon and I wind up being on the air until 2 in the morning. For the first month of the playoffs you realize you’re in there 6 or 7 days a week, a lot of late nights. I’m getting used to the idea that during the first round, 3-4 hours of sleep a night is often the norm. Things calm down in the conference finals for a little bit and then we go away for a few weeks for the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s exciting. The biggest part right now is that the games themselves have been fantastic and that makes our jobs a lot easier.
Mike Milbury and Keith Jones are the analysts on the show. What has it been like working with them?
McHugh: They’ve been fantastic partners. I think a big reason why I work well with Mike Milbury is because I don’t have as strong a background in hockey as I do in other sports. I came in having covered a lot of college football and basketball but certainly this was not something I did a whole lot of. Now I don’t challenge Mike too much on hockey stuff. I’ll challenge him on other things throughout the show but he knows way more about hockey than I’m probably ever going to learn. I love working with him because you really never know where the show’s going to take you. You have a formatted show but we go off that format quite a bit, mainly because of Mike. We can have a free flowing conversation, that we did not plan, on national TV. And it usually works out better than what we had planned. I think that’s one of the things that makes the show great.
I was definitely someone who needed to catch up quickly in terms of NHL knowledge so I did a lot of studying on my own, watched a ton of games and tried to catch up as quickly as possible. With Keith Jones, it’s like an education every day. Because he’s the type of guy who’s willing to explain things to you until you fully understand them. He’s willing to explain the finer points of the game so that it’s easy to pick up on them. And that makes it easy for me to convey those points to an audience. Both of those guys could not have been better to me.
You traveled to Sochi back in February to cover the Olympics. What were some of the highlights?
McHugh: It was very cool. It was different. I think the best moment I had was at the USA-Russia game that went into the shootout. To be there in that arena with that energy and to see what T.J. Oshie did… I’ve been to the Super Bowl, to the BCS National Championship, to the Final Four… But that was the greatest live sporting event I’ve ever attended.
You also host Countdown to Kickoff along with Hines Ward and Doug Flutie. Talk about that experience a little bit.
McHugh: For me to be able to have a job like this, where I can live in the New York area and still be involved in college football, is an absolute gift. Because you know there aren’t that many college football teams around here. We were doing the show for about a year and a half in the studio at 30 Rock and that was cool, kind of a wild experience. We were on the eighth floor, which is exactly where Saturday Night Live is, so they were rehearsing all day while we were doing a college football show. You’d come out of the studio and you’d see Alec Baldwin going up the hallway or everyone in wigs or guys from Radiohead hanging out. But now we’re up in Connecticut. They take us out on the road and we’re in South Bend for all of the Notre Dame home games. To me that’s awesome because I covered Oklahoma football and Oklahoma State football when I worked for a Fox affiliate in Oklahoma and I’d be there on game day every Saturday. There’s nothing like it- the energy you get from the crowd and that whole experience of walking up to the stadium and going inside. The first year we were right in front of the students, which was a very cool experience. The final home game, they do this thing where all the students throw marshmallows at each other. But of course now that they’ve put our set directly next to the students, everyone just threw them at us on live TV. So we’re there and we’re dodging marshmallows or we’re catching them and throwing them back at people while we’re on the air. For me it’s the best of both worlds. I get to live in New York, do national broadcasts and still be involved in college football, so it’s tough to ask for more.
Any words of advice for aspiring sportscasters?
McHugh: For me I think getting out of your comfort zone, moving away, starting somewhere small- I think that’s a really good idea for someone who’s young in this business. You’ll learn from the ground up. You’ll learn everything about it- from shooting to editing to writing and producing. It’s going to make you a better all-around broadcaster or all-around journalist. And more than that, you’re going to go someplace and you’re going to get repetition, you’re going to get on-air experience. You know when you’re young, you’re going to make some mistakes. Go to some place where they’re going to be patient with you, where they’re going to let you learn and grow. That really worked out well for me. I started in this small market, Terre Haute, Indiana, and was there for a few years. But I was on the air every single day. I was busy, it was a lot of hard work and it didn’t pay much. But I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not started there.
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
Lee Zurik is a weeknight anchor and the chief investigative reporter for Fox 8 New Orleans. He has covered and investigated a myriad of stories and has collected numerous awards for his work.
I recently spoke with Lee about his mindset as an investigative reporter, the transition from sports into news, and what it’s been like to cover his hometown of New Orleans.
First off, tell me about your current position at WVUE.
Lee Zurik: Right now I anchor the nine and ten o’clock newscasts each weeknight. I’m also the station’s chief investigative reporter and spend a good portion of my day working on investigative stories. I split my time between anchoring and investigative reporting. I’ve been here for about four and a half years now.
You used to work in sports. How did you end up in news, and more specifically investigative reporting?
Zurik: I worked at the CBS station here, WWL, in their sports department while I was in high school. Then I went to Syracuse University for college and made my way around in several sports jobs. Greenville, Mississippi for a year. Montgomery, Alabama for two years. Baton Rouge for a year and half and then New Orleans. When Katrina hit in 2005, I was the weekend sports anchor at WWL. Katrina changed my career path. When the storm was coming ashore our staff split up and I was actually one of the people anchoring the coverage. That’s just how things worked out. I’m a New Orleans native so I knew the city. I was on for twelve hours straight somedays. They would just throw you in there. It wasn’t pretty but we were covering a huge tragedy and a huge story. So after that, the sports staff kept doing news and a month or two later my boss talked to me about making the transition to news full time. I thought it was the right thing to do and I wanted a new challenge. First I became the weekend news anchor and a general assignment reporter. I’m a curious person, I like to dig, it’s in my DNA. I just started looking at things. I got a news tip on one thing which led to a story, which led to another. Really almost taught myself how to be an investigative reporter. Just kept doing more stories, got some more tips but figured out things on my own. Nine years later here I am.
What’s it like covering and investigating stories in your hometown?
Zurik: It’s got its good points and bad points to be honest. I have a lot of history so I know a lot of things, people, etc. It can be tough too because when you’re rooted in an area and you have friends and family, you don’t know if someone you’re looking into is connected to someone else you know. So that can be difficult sometimes. It can be challenging if you get a call from someone you know because you’re looking into someone they know. But that doesn’t stop me from doing a story if it’s warranted.
You recently won a Peabody Award and a National Headliner Award for your work on “Louisiana Purchased.” What do those achievements mean to you?
Zurik: We don’t do the work for the awards. But it is nice to be honored at a high level like that and to be honored by people who judge based on good journalism and good work. I think it’s special to be in that group. When you look at other reporters, other TV stations who have won awards, it’s special to be in that group.
In your opinion what are some of the important traits that make a successful investigative reporter?
Zurik: Well first, honesty and good ethics are understood. I think you need thick skin. I think you need to be a good storyteller because a well told story can make your reporting, your work, shine. You can have great data, great findings, but if you don’t tell the story well, if you don’t present it well… And then persistence, not giving up. You need to always dig deeper, dig further, and find even more significant things down the road. I think that’s something that makes a successful investigative reporter.
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
This is Part Three of a three-part series which focuses on the Sochi Olympic Games.
Ryan Burr is a host for NBC Sports and Golf Channel. His broadcasting experience runs the gamut — golf, basketball, baseball, football, auto racing, hockey and now, the Olympics.
I recently spoke with Ryan about his overall experience, favorite events from the Games, and aspirations to cover future Olympics.
First off, tell me about the overall experience.
Ryan Burr: It was an unbelievable task as far as researching is concerned, with the Olympics meaning so much to NBC. When they gave me the opportunity, I wanted to take it as far as I could, and do the best job possible. It was a big endeavor, especially jumping out of my comfort zone and trying something new. But since I was a little kid, the Olympic Games was something that I wanted to be a part of, so this was a real bucket list endeavor for me.
Which individual events or stories did you cover?
Burr: We anchored a show called Gold Zone at the NBC Sports headquarters in Connecticut. It was a take off of the very popular NFL RedZone channel. We were essentially jumping from event to event. Any time a medal was up for grabs, we would immediately take you to that event and split the box. Sometimes we had four different events on the screen at one time. It was a great opportunity for someone at home or work to kind of take in all the different sports at once and really not miss anything.
Did any events in particular stand out for you?
Burr: All the events were interesting in their own right. The luge and skeleton were wild just because the athletes were going at such high speeds. Something that I think could become very popular in the U.S. is curling. I know that in Manhattan and other places, it’s kind of replacing bowling as a Friday night social activity where people are going out and trying it. There’s a lot of strategy involved, and for me it turned out to be one of the more exciting events.
The 2016 Brazil games are right around the corner…
Burr: When you get a taste of the Olympics like I just did with the Sochi games, it becomes part of your blood and is something that you start to look forward to. I can’t wait to be a part of the next one and 100% think this will not be my last Olympics.
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
This is Part Two of a three-part series which focuses on the Sochi Olympic Games.
Russ Thaler is the host of NBC SportsTalk on NBC Sports Network. He has covered everything from the Washington Capitals to the Super Bowl to boxing and figure skating at the Olympics.
I recently spoke with Russ about his overall experience, specific highlights from the Games, and aspirations to cover future Olympics.
First off, tell me about the overall experience.
Russ Thaler: This was my second Olympics; I was the boxing reporter at the 2012 London Games. That year I was on site in the boxing venue everyday. This time around it was different in the sense that I was in Connecticut rather than in Sochi. It was also different hosting a show rather than being a sideline reporter. Both experiences were interesting because I had never previously covered either sport. But in both instances NBC surrounded me with people who live and breathe the sport.
Which individual events or stories did you cover?
Thaler: I hosted a show called Olympic Ice, a daily figure skating show. It was all about figure skating. I was paired up with Sarah Hughes, who won the gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. That was neat because not many people get to sit next to a gold medalist and watch their sport unfold in front of you. So I got some serious insight on the ins and outs of the performances, as well as the back stories that you might not even hear about during the primetime broadcast: the different athletes and how they trained; what costuming involves; what goes into music selection. Sarah’s sister Emily, who’s also a former Olympian, was working for the IOC and sort of filling Sarah in on what was going on behind the scenes, because Emily was hanging out with the U.S. team. We would watch the entire event in real time and then try to translate all of that into the show. We also had social media expert Michael Buckley who would go through with us what was trending as far as figure skating was concerned. We had Nicole Miller, the designer, come on the show to talk about costumes. Current Olympians came on as well- we did some Skype interviews once they were out of competition.
The 2016 Brazil games are right around the corner…
Thaler: Oh. I desperately want to go to Brazil and work the Olympics down there. I would absolutely love to cover the 2016 Games.
Stay tuned for Part Three…
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
This is Part One of a three-part series which focuses on the Sochi Olympic Games.
Kevin Nathan is the sports director at WVIT, the NBC affiliate in Hartford, CT. A six-time New England Emmy winner and also a six-time recipient of the Connecticut Sportscaster of the Year award, Kevin traveled to Sochi to cover last month’s Olympic Games.
I recently spoke with Kevin about his overall experience, specific highlights from the Games, and efforts to learn the Russian language.
First off, tell me about the overall experience.
Kevin Nathan: It was an awesome Olympics, my best one yet. First of all, just to see a different part of the world was awesome. The Russians were great hosts for the Olympics. The first highlight for me was working with peers from the Comcast/NBC-owned affiliates. The second highlight was that we had 18 Olympic athletes from Connecticut. I would say 99% of what we did was hyperlocal, and that to me was why we were at the Olympics. The third thing was that I was 15 feet away from Vladimir Putin at an NBC hospitality event. To be that close to such a powerful man was pretty unique.
Which individual events or stories did you cover?
Nathan: The events didn’t drive us. We didn’t make it event-driven, we made it people-driven. For us, everything was predicated on who from Connecticut — or with ties to Connecticut — was competing. We had a lot of snowboarders from the state, in addition to aerial skiers and luge participants, so those sports became the focus. We had a ton of hockey players from both the men’s and women’s team, so we’d focus there as well. We let the people with Connecticut ties dictate our coverage more than the actual events. What can we give viewers that they can’t find elsewhere? If we do a story on Alex Diebold, a bronze medalist from Branford, CT — who subsequently may have a pizza named after him at the famous Frank Pepe Pizza in New Haven, where his uncle is a part owner — that’s a nugget of information you’re not going to get anywhere else.
Were you able to explore the surrounding areas?
Nathan: I did get one full day off and decided to put skis on for the first time since the ’02 Olympics. I hit the easiest trail on the mountain, a beginner’s slope because I didn’t want to end up in a hospital somewhere. We also got to walk along the Black Sea, which was really unique because you have the beautiful sea on one side, and then your eyes look the other way and you see the mountains 25 miles away. It was really a beautiful spot.
Did you learn any Russian while you were over there?
Nathan: Well my oldest son is 17 — he is a junior in high school and has been taking Russian since 7th grade. So I went to his class before the Olympics and we shot a couple of TV pieces where they gave me notecards with words and phrases. One word that I definitely used repeatedly was “spasibo”, which means “thank you” in Russian. I don’t think I had the intonation quite right because the Russians always laughed at me when I said it, but I made an attempt to say “thank you” as often as possible.
Stay tuned for Part Two…
by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
Over the past 25 years, Jim Jackson has achieved basketball greatness everywhere he’s been. A 6-foot-6 smooth-scoring small forward from Toledo, Ohio, Jackson was selected as a 1989 McDonald’s High School All-American before moving on to Ohio State. As a Buckeye, he was twice named Big Ten Player of the Year and consensus First-Team All-American. After a stellar college run, Jackson had a successful 14-year NBA career, scoring almost 13,000 points.
Jackson retired in 2006, and he is now a college basketball analyst for the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports. He is still engulfed in the game and undoubtedly becoming one of the strongest basketball voices on television.
I recently caught up with Jackson to discuss Big Ten basketball, his NBA career, transitioning from the court to the broadcast booth and much more. Excerpts from our conversation are below.
You recently called the Marquette-Ohio State game on Fox Sports 1, the first college basketball game ever broadcasted on the network. How was that experience?
Jim Jackson: I did the first Big Ten Network basketball broadcast six years ago, and now staying within the Fox family and doing the first broadcast on Fox Sports 1, it was really a milestone day for me. I respect Brian [Anderson] and we’ve done a lot of work together at the Big Ten Network, so we already had chemistry. It was a great joy to be a part of history, so to speak, for Fox Sports.
This is one of the most anticipated college basketball seasons in a long time. However, with all the hoopla surrounding the freshman class, it seems like people are looking past the Big Ten.
JJ: I guess it depends on whom you talk to. The conference doesn’t have the same superstar power as last year, but I still think we’re going to have really good teams that will make it competitive. You have Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana—six teams that are Top-25 in the country. Now, I think across the board there’s not a lot of what I consider great teams in any conference. I think in today’s game, we have some outstanding players—freshman like Jabari Parker and the like—but not many elite teams.
There’s been a transition in college basketball over the last six to eight years, where the freshmen and young guys leave early, which takes away the great teams, but you still have a lot of really good teams because there are good players across the nation.
Gotcha. One Big Ten team I’m always fascinated by is Michigan State. The Spartans are the best team in the country right now, but are kind of an outlier in terms of how they operate — they play with upperclassmen but still produce NBA players every year. In the “one-and-done” era, how has Michigan State been able to sustain such a high level of success every year?
JJ: It’s a different mindset, and I think it’s genius for college basketball. Michigan State will get five-star or four-star players, but not at the same rate that a Kentucky, a Duke, a Kansas will get every year. So the talent is allowed to grow, while still being competitive. Michigan State has been able to have juniors and seniors mold the incoming freshman, and then there’s a progression of guys stepping up.
You know, you lose Draymond Green, but then Adreian Payne kind of finds his own way. Keith Appling now becomes more of a leader, once Draymond left. So you have a passing of the torch within that Michigan State program. The key has been player development, not just from the coaching perspective, but you have some very good team leaders who’ve kind of taken over the player-coach role, to help in that aspect as well. That’s why I think they’re so consistent — the makeup of the coaching staff, and also the mindset of the players they recruit.
You were an All-American during your playing days at Ohio State, and now you cover its basketball program for a living. Is there ever a conflict of interest—maybe not even outwardly, but just within yourself?
JJ: Not at all. See, the way I look at it, the game pretty much dictates what you talk about. So if Ohio State is playing well, I will give them credit. And if they’re struggling or playing poorly, I’ll point that out as well. It’s just like when people ask how can I possibly objectively cover my son [Traveon Jackson, starting point guard for Wisconsin]…
I was about to ask you that…
JJ: Like I said, the game is going to give you all the material you need to talk about. Now you may add in little things you know—from a personal perspective, I know the players and coaches little bit more, so I can add some more value and information that the general public may not know. But I’m always critical of the mistakes Ohio State makes, that my son makes, and I give credit when credit is due. But this all goes back to how the game ultimately dictates what you talk about. And if you stick to that script, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be able to call an unbiased game.
You played on 12 different teams over the course of a 14-year NBA career. Do you still keep in touch with your former teammates? I see Sam Cassell—a former teammate of yours—is working towards being a head coach in the NBA.
JJ: It’s funny you mention Sam, because he and I are like brothers. We’ve been best friends for years, so I’m real happy for him. There are a few guys I stay in touch with—Sam, Brian Grant, Alonzo Morning. But it’s weird, because you would think that as much time as we spend around people, especially on different teams, you’d stay close with everyone. But guys have different lives. They have families, they move on. You have two or three guys that you stay in touch with, and those are the ones I’m still close with.
Would you ever consider getting into coaching?
JJ: No, no, no. Nope. Too much stress, man. In college basketball, you’re dealing with family members who think their son is going to be the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James [laughs]. Then you have to deal with the AAU Coach and the kid’s handler. Then the program, the alumni—and that’s before you even step on the court. There’s just too much stress in college basketball. You know, I love the game, but I don’t love it enough to where I’m in the office at 5 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m., and do it again every day.
Just looking at your resume, you played on so many different teams in the NBA, you have a wealth of experience and knowledge. How stressful was that grind, to play in all of those cities, and for all those teams? How did you manage that?
JJ: Here’s the thing: As a basketball player, you want to be in one environment, so you can grow and your game can grow. You don’t want to move from team to team. But at the same time, I always looked at it like life—those that can make adjustments and handle transition will survive. Those that can’t will not survive. A big part of my success is my mentality. To be able to play 14 years and play for 12 different teams, a lot of guys could never make the mental adjustment.
What do you mean by “mental adjustment”?
JJ: You have to be able to go from being the man in one situation, to being a complementary player — and not THE man — in another situation. It’s a 180-degree change in role and mindset, and most guys frankly can’t do it.
I knew I could play, so I had to ask myself, “How do you adapt your game and your mindset in the system, and still be effective?” And that to me that goes beyond basketball. That’s life.
Plus, it was a blessing because I was able to meet a lot of outstanding and great people, who were my teammates. From a business perspective, I met a lot of business people in a lot of different cities. My rolodex is extensive because of that. It may not have turned out from a basketball perspective the way that I envisioned it, but from a life perspective—from a growth perspective—my career path helped me more so for what I’m doing after my basketball career.
I guess the last question I’d ask you is, how has the transition been to broadcasting? Has it been seamless for you, or did it take time to develop the chemistry with the play-by-play guy, and really find yourself as a broadcaster?
JJ: Let me tell you something—it’s been challenging, and a growth process. When you start as a broadcaster, you don’t get taught. Fortunately for me, I had a broadcasting coach from the very beginning. But most networks, when you get hired, they don’t give you a blueprint on what you’re supposed to do, or give you the technical terms of what you’re supposed to know.
A lot of people think it’s easy for former athletes to step off the court and right into the broadcast booth, but it’s certainly not. You have to learn on the fly, and it’s just like playing the game. I studied tape of broadcasters I enjoy—baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey, swimming…everything. I’m trying to continuously improve myself. So it’s growth. You can never be satisfied with where you’re at, you’re always trying to get better.
To me, I’m still learning, I have a long way to go, but I love what I do. I don’t view it as a job; I view it an as opportunity to do something I love, which is talk about basketball. And I’m just getting started.
by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
If you’ve watched ESPN anytime over the past nine years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Dari Nowkhah at work, hosting various shows on the station’s flagship channel, as well as ESPNEWS and ESPNU. A talented broadcaster and an equally impressive (if not more) member of the community, Nowkhah currently serves as the lead anchor for ESPNU, is a play-by-play announcer for the network’s coverage of all college sports, and hosts the Dari and Mel show every Saturday morning on ESPN Radio.
Today, we caught up with Dari to discuss his versatile skill set, passion for college sports, his broadcasting journey and much more.
You covered ACC media day earlier this week. How’d it go?
Dari Nowkhah: It was an awesome time. Media day was held at our ESPNU building down here in Charlotte, and the building underwent a total makeover. We put up a bunch of pictures and banners, and we totally made everything ACC’ed out. Media days are tiring, but they’re an incredible experience. You get here early and it’s still dark outside. There are 15 mascots running around the building, pushing you, pulling at you, stealing your pens and just messing around with you. It’s like a circus at times.
There are 30 or 40 players present representing their school, and of course all 15 head coaches come. So you’re walking around the building and saying hello to all the folks, and then we go into the studio and conduct interviews.
Any memorable stories from this year?
DN: One of the really cool things was sitting with Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, and speaking with them for 20 minutes, both on- and off- the air. Sitting with Boeheim, Krzyzewski and Roy, just discussing the intricacies of the 2-3 zone, was kind of surreal. A long time ago, I stopped being in awe of who I worked with or who I did a show with or who I had lunch with, but sitting around those three guys—two of which have won 900-plus games, and with seven national championships between all three of them—you know, I’m sitting there and I’m thinking about those things, and it was really amazing.
I don’t think you could come up with three more recognizable names over the last 30 years in college basketball. Maybe Coach Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but you can’t do much better than Roy, Coach K and Boeheim.
Tell us a little about your broadcasting journey up to this point.
DN: I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1998, where I majored in broadcast journalism. After college, I sent out my résumé and broadcast tapes to stations across the country, and eventually three months after I graduated I got the opportunity to work at a station in Kalispell, Montana. It was an extremely small market, but it was a great place to get my feet wet—I learned on the fly, and the location was beautiful. We were about 45 minutes south of the Canadian border, and right near Glacier National Park, so it was just a beautiful part of the country.
After about 20 months, I moved on to the ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Nebraska. The cool thing about working in Lincoln was they gave me a chance to cover big-time college athletics, which is my passion. I covered the Nebraska football team, which was a lot of fun because they had a very successful team back then. They played in the national championship game my second year there.
And then after two years in Lincoln, I worked at KOTV, a station in my hometown of Tulsa, and a station that I grew up watching. I was there for a little over two years when, in 2004, I got an opportunity to interview at ESPN, which obviously ended up working out.
Throughout the process of your career, and going from city to city, did you face any struggles along the way? Change, some would say, is usually accompanied by uncertainty.
DN: It’s been a relatively smooth ride, but at one point I definitely hit a crossroad in my career. The biggest bump in the road, actually, was when I was back home in Tulsa. I loved my hometown, but my wife and I were ready to get out. There was a lot of family pressure, I had just gotten married, and we really wanted to go somewhere and do our own thing.
It actually got to the point that I almost got out of the business entirely. I mean, we made a mutual decision that if no new opportunities emerged for me within a matter of weeks, we were going to move to Charleston, South Carolina, which is my wife’s favorite city and is where we got married, and we were both going to get teaching degrees.
But my interview with ESPN came up right then, and it was almost like divine intervention. We literally had a deposit laid down on an apartment in Charleston, and if ESPN didn’t offer, I would’ve been out of the business a decade ago.
Wow. Safe to say it worked out though, huh?
DN: [Laughs] Yeah, it has definitely worked out. I spent seven years in Bristol, which was great, and then we moved to Charlotte a few years back. We couldn’t be happier.
You are mostly a studio host, but have also done play-by-play across various mediums. Which do you enjoy more?
DN: To be honest with you, I enjoy play-by-play every bit as much as I do hosting in the studio, but I don’t want to travel 300 days a year, and that’s what those guys do. I think right now I have a perfect balance—I primarily work in the studio, but I also get to do some live games from time to time, so the travel isn’t too much.
Is there a particular sport you enjoy covering the most?
DN: My favorite has always been college football. I think just growing up in Oklahoma, you know, that’s what we have there. I love college football, which is a big part of why I enjoy ESPNU. I like college basketball and baseball, but my first love is college football.
As a studio host, how do you prepare for your job on a daily basis? Is it as simple as, like, you come into the office, have staff meetings, do some research on your own and then you’re ready to go? Or is preparing a constant, around-the-clock mindset?
DN: Once we get into a season, the preparation just comes from being around the sport every day. When I’m at work, I’m working on college football, and researching stuff there. On Saturdays, I’m here all day covering college football. There are eight TVs in front of me at all times.
I’m really immersed in my work, which I guess you could say is an around-the-clock approach, but when I’m home with my wife and kids, I don’t watch a lot of sports. I’ll watch some—like I’m a huge L.A. Dodgers and Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and my wife will sit down with me on Saturday nights and watch college football, because she understands it’s my job—but I don’t usually just go home and turn on sports. I try to keep as much of a balance as I can.
Is that out of respect to your family, or do you intentionally take a break to recharge yourself?
DN: It’s a little bit of both, but honestly, it’s mostly out of respect for the family. Like if I was single, I’d probably go home and watch sports in the evenings. I like to go out with my family and spend time with my kids, so any time off is refreshing because my schedule is so crazy.
As a studio host, you’re kind of like the conductor and director of the program, and in a lot of ways, the show is a reflection of you. What are some of the challenges of hosting?
DN: As a host, I have to make sure my knowledge is where it needs to be. Not every show I do is a college football or college basketball show. There are times I’m covering a softball selection show, or lacrosse—which is a game I don’t even fully understand—or hockey, and I love hockey, but I don’t get a chance to follow all of these sports consistently. So one challenge is to be knowledgeable enough to be able to direct a conversation on a sport that may not come naturally to me.
Also, energy is huge. Energy is the fuel to a studio show, so I have to always make sure I’m ready. I’m a coffee drinker, but covering sports in general gives me a thrill. There are challenges, sure, but at the end of the day we’re talking about sports, and there aren’t many things better than that.