Bob Costas Doesn’t Like What I Do…And I Want To Explain Why I Do What I Do

Tim McKernan, Tue, 27 May 2008 05:00:00 GMT

The Costas Now show on the current state of sports media aired almost a month ago…and I’m finally getting around to addressing it.


The truth is that I was in Las Vegas when it aired—and when it was talked about, I’m sure, ad nauseum—and I hadn’t watched it until just yesterday.


I have received a number of emails from listeners/readers who were anxious to hear/read what I thought about it, because they thought that Bob Costas made a direct reference to The ITD Morning After on the HBO show… and they wanted to get my response.

So, if you’re not interested in going back into a month-old topic, feel free to stop reading now.

Here’s the background, for those of you unaware of the show and/or its focus: Bob Costas did a 90 minute show on Costas Now about the state of sports media…all of it, including sports talk radio, the Internet and blogs, and sports TV. He brought in some of the biggest names in the respective fields, ranging from Joe Buck to Dan Patrick in TV, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo of New York’s Mike And The Mad Dog show, and Will Leitch of Deadspin.com.

The goal of the show was to examine the changing scope of the relationship between sports and media, and whether or not these changes were good or bad.

Out of the gate, for those of you who haven’t watched it, I can’t recommend the show enough. It was outstanding TV, as you would expect, considering Bob Costas was involved. And, it’s thought provoking, which is also a Costas
trademark…along with an HBO Sports trademark. Nobody does it better when it comes to sports journalism than HBO, and, really, nobody does television, in my opinion, better than HBO.

However, another trademark of Bob Costas that I’ve noticed in recent years is that he seems to have a real problem with the way sports media has changed. And, he’s pretty upset about it.

The Costas Now special made that pretty obvious, but I can tell you a story from 2003 that will give you a little behind-the-scenes look at how serious he takes it.

I used to co-host The Pressbox on KFNS with Frank Cusumano. As many of you may know, Frank does a much different style of show than I do, but at that time, I really hadn’t had a show in which my kind of show had been established, so it was Frank’s show…with Frank’s style…with me making Frank uncomfortable every once in awhile. Quite honestly, I thought it was a pretty good show because of the ying and yang factor.

Rich From Maryland Heights was a regular caller to the show. This guy is well known to many sports talk listeners around St. Louis, but outside of that small group, he’s a random. However, for those that know him, he’s a guy that you expect to call in and make some kind of attack in a rather unhealthy sounding way toward a host or a local sports figure. Many callers and emailers enjoyed attacking Rich…in particular, Rob from Kirkwood.

So, I thought it would be “great radio” if we brought Rich from Maryland Heights to go head-to-head with Rob from Kirkwood.

We did it.

It went all right. It wasn’t incredible. It wasn’t terrible. It was fine.

And, after the show, Costas called Frank and said, “What are you doing putting those guys on the air?”

He wasn’t chastising Frank…at least I don’t think he was. I didn’t hear the call. But, he was driving around St. Louis listening and wondering what the hell was going on…and he disliked what he heard to the point where he felt the need to call Frank—someone he talks to regularly—and let him know.

As I wrote above, Bob Costas takes this sports media stuff seriously.

And, I should make it clear that I honestly think there’s no one better at what he does—when you combine all he does…and it’s a lot—than Bob Costas. He’s a genius. I honestly believe that. He can meet you one time and
remember your name months later. He can talk like he’s reading off a teleprompter. He can convey live action like he had seen it in advance and was reciting copy he wrote earlier to describe it.

He is, in my opinion, the best.

However, I completely disagree with what I perceive to be his condemnation of the new sports media.

And, quite honestly, I’m surprised that someone as intelligent as Bob Costas doesn’t just turn off the TV/radio that he doesn’t like.

But, apparently, he’s listening…to The ITD Morning After. Here’s a direct quote from his HBO Special which was taped in front of a live studio audience in New York:

“You guys (talking to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo) don’t do so-called ‘guy talk.’ On the other hand you’ve got 13 teams in New York, so it’s not like St. Louis if you’re in between football and baseball, you’ve got the Blues and Billikens, and you’ve got to do something…


…But, the worst of this, and everybody understands you want to have a little fun, but the worst of this is I’m driving down the road—and it doesn’t matter what city—and this station has a thing going where they’re naming every female sportscaster, and they’re asking the callers “would ya” or “wouldn’t ya?”

Now, for those of you that listen to The ITD Morning After on Team 1380, you know a regular feature of the show is The Friday Exit Poll, and one of the regular features of The Friday Exit Poll is the “would ya.”

The “would ya” is when we take a borderline attractive to below average female (let’s use Oprah for this example),  and ask our callers “would ya?”

the above quote from bob costas sounds incredibly familiar…albeit with some added twists, like the use of a list of female sportscasters for the “would ya” as opposed to what we really do, which is take any random female that is in the public eye… and rarely, if ever, have we gotten into female sportscasters.

And, there’s a reason we haven’t gotten into female sportscasters as the “would ya:” because 9 out of 10 times, a female sportscaster is going to be so damn attractive that it’s obvious that 9 out of 10 guys most certainly  “would.”

And, that gets me to the reason why I do what I do and why I disagree with Bob Costas so strongly:

The game has changed, and so if you want to play, you’ve got to play a different game than the one Bob played when he came up. Personally, I don’t care to play that game anymore, and so I bowed out of that game in 2005 when I left KMOV…and I chose to stay out of the game in 2006 and 2007 by not getting back into it in Denver and New York, respectively.

In 2008, if you want a job in sports TV, there’s a damn good chance the powers that be in sports TV are going to want to hire a female…and I can assure you, it’s no coincidence that Shelly Smith of ESPN is one of the only
overweight female sportscasters out there.

Stations, in many cases, want attractive female sportscasters. Fine by me. I understand the game. Sexy=viewers.

Not only do I understand it, but I respect it. And, it’s also no coincidence that you don’t see too many “rough looking” guys on TV. It’s human nature…and while it may not be “fair,” it’s business, and I completely respect it.


The Lakers aren’t going to call on me to run point, and Victoria’s Secret ain’t going to be calling on most women to walk the runway. Some got it. Most don’t.

In 2008 sportscasting, as opposed to when Bob was coming up, there are hundreds…literally, hundreds…of “starving” sportscasters who would do ANYTHING to get out of South Dakota or Oklahoma or wherever they are to work in the “big market” like St. Louis. When I got my job at KMOV in 2000, I was told I was picked out of 189 tapes.

I assure you, that if I went to management in 2000 and said the salary they were offering me was not enough, there wouldn’t have been a negotiation period. They would’ve just said, “Ok. We’ll hire someone else.”

And, I assure you once again that most of those 189 would’ve been more than happy to take the job in St. Louis for whatever the money would be…just because there are so few TV sportscasting jobs.

That was 2000.

Even though it was only 8 years ago, the landscape has gotten even worse for television sportscasters. Departments are being downsized and salaries are in decline as stations see little importance and/or relevance to their bottom lines in local sports. Therefore, legitimately talented people are either getting out of the business, or they’re working for dogshit money…because they don’t have any choice. If they want to quit, management is cool with that, because some 25 year-old nearly fresh out of school will happily work for half of what they were making…and it won’t impact the TV station’s bottom line one bit.

You see…

…many people still, to this day, think I was fired from Channel 4 in 2005…because they just can’t possibly grasp someone leaving a TV job. There’s a perception—and it’s a misperception—that TV jobs are big money jobs.

I assure you that if that were the case, I would’ve picked up and left for Denver and Fox Sports Baseball Across America in 2006 or picked up and left for New York City and SNY in 2007.

But, that’s not reality. And, that’s what Bob Costas doesn’t understand.

How fucked is it that I would’ve actually taken a pay cut, when you adjust for cost of living, by taking a TV job as a lead anchor in New York City…as opposed to staying in St. Louis and doing radio and running a website?

But, that’s reality.

I know it, because I have lived it this decade…and Bob has not.

So, why is this relevant to this discussion?


Because I have played by the rules that Bob Costas and others who frown upon the new media want me to. I’ve played the game the way they say it should be played. I went to one of the best journalism schools in the country by attending the University of Missouri. I did what I had to do and worked in a small market. I won awards in TV in St. Louis ranging from Emmys to Edward R. Murrows…

…and what did that get me when my contract was up?

An offer of a 3.7% raise.

Take it or leave it…for the reasons I stated above: there are 200 guys/girls dying for your job, and they’ll work for even less.

Well, fuck that.

I choose radio and Internet.

Why?

Because I can directly control my value…and if someone wants to fire off a contract with a 3.7% raise, I can laugh at them.

The one lesson they didn’t teach at the University of Missouri School of Journalism is that it doesn’t matter how many awards you win…or how many stories you break…or how many times you sit on the anchor desk. The only thing that matters is how much revenue you generate for your employer.

Period.

That’s your leverage.

And, if you staying or going doesn’t impact your station’s bottom line, then be prepared to get going…or be prepared to work a hell of a lot more for a hell of a lot less.

That’s reality.

And, much like the desire of stations to hire an attractive male or female anchor…I understand and respect it.

I can control my value to a radio station moreso than I can control my value to a TV station…at least in 2008 with the tired way TV is being done locally. The more advertisers The ITD Morning After has, the more value we as a show have. That’s all that matters.

Period.

And, with insideSTL.com, even if I were to be whacked tomorrow from radio, I’d be fine.

Why?

Because I saw the way the game was changing a few years ago…and I knew that I didn’t want to play it.

If I would’ve stayed at KMOV, insideSTL.com wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have had the time to come up with it, and even if I did, they would’ve never approved it.

That is reality.

I really want to get Bob Costas on the show this week…or at the very least have some kind of conversation with him, so I can at least give my side. This isn’t coming from someone who wasn’t allowed in the game. This is someone  who saw how bad the climate was surrounding the game, and chose to get out…and, so far, stay out.

It may not justify the “would ya” question in his mind, but perhaps it will explain why I do what I do. The truth is, I make more money playing this game than his game, and I enjoy it much more.

I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with it.

The marketplace has the right to accept or reject it…and fortunately, as of right now—and it could change at anytime—the marketplace is accepting of it. I can’t leave the studio in a commercial break during The ITD Morning After because nearly every break, I have a live endorsement…which is a good “problem” to have. And insideSTL.com is getting viewed by more than 9,000 unique visitors daily Monday through Friday.

I may not do what Bob Costas or many others like, but there are some people who do enjoy it. What does it matter? Would it be better for him and those people if we didn’t exist? Should we be censored? I’m abiding by FCC regulations, and I would confidently suggest that our show is hardly as risque as some like to portray it.

If Bob Costas—or anyone else—doesn’t want to listen to The ITD Morning After or doesn’t want to visit insideSTL.com, they don’t have to.

That’s the beauty of it.

The new media expands the individual’s ability to choose what he or she wants to read, listen to, and watch. While some of it may be inappropriate in some people’s minds, it’s obviously not the case with other people.

I personally won’t be interested in watching Bob Costas anchor Olympic coverage from Beijing in a couple of months, but plenty of other people will.

God bless them.

I’m not going to condemn them because they’re going to be manipulated by dissolve edits and sappy music in telling the story of a marathon runner who’s cat fell out of a tree the day before the Olympic trials…but she (the runner, not the cat) perservered and is now dedicating the Olympics to her fallen cat.

That stuff, to me, sucks.

To others, it doesn’t.

I watched the entire Costas Now show on the state of sports media, and even though there were much bigger names and many more entertaining lines, I thought it was Deadspin.com‘s Will Leitch who summed it up best:

“Anytime someone does something new or something a little bit different, everyone’s like, ‘That’s not really journalism. That’s not what we really do.’ No. It’s just not what you do.”


I would’ve loved to have kept my clean-cut image, my hair, my cleanly shaven face, worn a suit, and been the sportscaster my parents could be proud of. I would’ve loved to eventually been a sports director here or even do play-by-play for one of my hometown teams someday. Hell, that’s what I grew up wanting to do and even as recently as 10 years ago, that’s what I thought I was going to do.

I would’ve loved all of that. It would’ve been great.

But, things change.

Bob, things change.

If you have any questions, comments, or something for The Friday Mail Bag, email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com or log in and post your comment below.

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