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Ryan Ruocco Learned To Manufacture Energy

“If I go back to broadcasting three years ago, I should feel I am better than that.”

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Chances are that if you are watching a sporting event whether it is the Yankees, Nets, the WNBA, or the Women’s Final Four, you will most likely hear the voice of Ryan Ruocco. 

Since starting as a statistician at YES back in 2007, Ruocco worked his way into becoming one of the voices of the Nets in 2011 and later the Yankees, filling in on games for Michael Kay beginning in 2015. In addition to YES, he has been at ESPN as the play-by-play announcer for NBA and WNBA games as well as the NCAA Women’s Tournament. 

One on One: Ryan Ruocco Interview | WFUV

So, how does Ruocco balance the schedule if he has to call different games during a particular week? He says the key is to treat each game as if it were a “final exam” and by taking the events in order: 

“If I have 4 games in 5 days and it’s 4 different networks or sports, I’m going to take care of the first thing first. I’ll do sort of peripheral, skeleton things with boards for games down the road, but I’m not going to let my mind fully dive into the next thing until I get there. Otherwise, it’s going to be cluttered in my head and it might mean that I’m cramming a little bit mentally, but I’m ok to do that. If I know I’ve gotten my skeleton boards done, now I know have 7 hours where I can fully dive in on a given game.

“If I can do that, then I can just kind of compartmentalize it and that’ll give me ample time to do what I need to do to be ready. Sometimes, it’s just looking at your schedule and saying when do I have to do what in order to be prepared on air.”

Ruocco does more regular work with the Nets than the Yankees. That means juggling preparations for MLB and NBA action is necessary. He says when trying to balance where to place his focus, he’ll spend more time on the Yankees’ opponent than he might prepping for a basketball game, simply because he’s around the NBA game more: 

“For the Nets, it’s not as hard for me. I see them all the time. Whereas, if I’m doing the Yankees vs. Mariners and I haven’t seen Seattle at all this year, I can’t just dive into the Mariners the morning of the game. That’s not going to work out. It’s kind of just being smart and honest about what you have to do for each assignment and applying things mentally to keep yourself clear on-air for each assignment.”

In addition to being on TV, Ruocco has spent time on the radio, working for ESPN Radio on shows with Stephen A. Smith, Dave Rothenberg, and being a co-host on The Michael Kay Show. He credits his first co-host, Robin Lundberg, with teaching him about the NBA and says live radio is a great advantage for preparing for any situation: 

“It makes it real easy to craft your words when you have a two-minute fill on a TV broadcast or all of a sudden, the booth isn’t level in Toronto (this actually happened) and they’re going to take 5-10 minutes to fix it. Some people don’t have that experience of talking extemporaneously without having any stimulation in front of them like you have on the radio, they might freak out.”

That preparation for the anything-can-happen on live radio or TV came from when Ruocco worked in college at WFUV Radio at Fordham University. His mentor and executive director, Bob Ahrens, gave him advice saying “when s**t flies, s**t happens.” Here is how Ruocco explained it: 

“That was a great way to calm me down in moments of chaos. When you are on live TV or live radio, inevitably, things are going to go differently than the way you thought they were going to go. The key to having success is not freaking out when it does because the reality is because it’s live, things are going to happen.”

While Ruocco does enjoy certain aspects of live radio, he is not a fan of how it can sometimes lead people into controversy. It’s why he prefers hosting the R2C2 podcast with former MLB pitcher CC Sabathia: 

“I think our podcast, we always wanted to be more about storytelling and people showing their personalities rather than having to drive any sort of controversy or opinion. While we certainly have those moments, that’s not the crux of it. We don’t look at a juicy story and say, oh, that’s for us. Whereas when you do daily radio, you do. No matter what your natural disposition is or even what your commitment is to trying to be more positive, when you do daily radio, it just sort of naturally drags you into controversy a little bit more. I didn’t love that part of daily radio.

“I think the podcast is great because it allows us the best parts of doing radio, which is the connectivity with the audience and sort of the free flowing medium without having to feel like we need to make mountains out of molehills like I think most people feel compelled to do with daily radio as you’re trying to come up with content.”

Ruocco and Sabathia have hosted the R2C2 podcast together over the last few years. As Sabathia has transitioned from being a player to a podcast host, Ruocco has seen his co-host grow in the industry and it has impressed him: 

“I think he has honed a lot of broadcast skills as well where I can see him segueing and pivoting topics and asking follow-ups and generating conversations and going places where I’m like, that’s where I wanted to go next. That’s really impressive stuff for someone who hasn’t been in a booth to learn and I think he continues to really improve on that front as well.” 

Ryan Ruocco Keeps It Candid on Podcast with Yankees Pitcher CC Sabathia

On Saturday, Ruocco was on the call for the Las Vegas Aces vs. Seattle Storm WNBA game as the league began its 25th season. Since he started calling games in 2013, he’s noticed that it is no longer cool to make jokes about the WNBA:  

“More and more people are understanding just how cool these women are and this league is and how great the basketball is… I think it was very in vogue to make a joke about it or act like it wasn’t as cool and now, nobody thinks it is funny anymore. No one thinks it’s cool to put down the WNBA, at least nobody who I would want to hang out with or respect would do that. It’s juvenile. I’m happy to see more and more people getting it.”

Ruocco was in Seattle for that game, something which a year earlier may have seemed impossible. The challenges created by the pandemic forced a lot of adjustments for broadcasters and networks, earning high praise from Ruocco for the work done by operators and technicians. Working without the usual tools and calling games during times of uncertainty helped Ryan learn just how important the energy he brings to any broadcast is: 

“Without having crowds and without having the action in front of you and calling games in more sterile environments like my living room or my kitchen, it’s even more important to be able to manufacture the energy that should go along with an audience watching a professional game. I think that I kind of just always thought that’s my style, that’s how I broadcast trying to have energy, but energy that makes sense too, which I’ve always prided myself on. This period of time actually gave me more of an appreciation for the significance of broadcasting with energy because you will hear people who are broadcasting from their home and it sounds like they are trying not to wake up their house. All of a sudden, that really changes the experience for the viewer and not in a good way.”

While Ruocco has had to call games from his living room and kitchen in the past year, he’s also had the opportunity to take part in cool experiences like ESPN’s Marvel-themed NBA broadcast of Warriors-Pelicans. As a big Marvel fan, he felt like he was walking onto a movie set when he went into the studio. He says he’s a fan of networks trying these type of new ideas: 

“It always makes me laugh when I see sort of the old guard traditionalist from Twitter ripping on these innovative broadcasts because creativity started all of this. Every single thing we see in sports and entertainment is the brainchild of someone taking a chance creatively. Maybe those things don’t end up having legs or maybe they don’t end up being long-term, but I will never, ever criticize any company or network for trying something because that’s how you get innovation.”

A few days ago, Mike Breen, a Fordham alum, was inducted into the National Basketball Hall Of Fame as the 2020 winner of the Curt Gowdy Award. When Ruocco was in college, he got great advice from Breen about listening back to past work and how to grow from it: 

“He [Breen] would go back once a year and listen back to an old game or two to continue to try and give yourself honest feedback and he said it’s funny even now, you have me listen to games from 2 years ago, and this was when he was already a well-established NBA voice and calling The NBA Finals. I would be like, oh, that’s not good or I can’t listen to that and I think that’s how you should feel.” 

“If I go back to broadcasting three years ago, I should feel I am better than that. The way you get there is from listening to that stuff. I did that extensively during the Final Four. I listened to several broadcasts and there were a couple of things I picked up on that I was like, I think I could do that better…I’m not just trying to be good at this, I’m driven to be great at this.”

One of the things I asked Ruocco at the start of our conversation was what would he tell himself if he could go back and chat with the 2007 version of himself. He mentioned that not one experience can ever be duplicated whether it’s calling games at Fordham with his friends or doing the Women’s NCAA Tournament, every experience is unique: 

“No matter what, there are things that end up having better audiences and represent progress in my career, but I think the key thing to realize is every single step has its own unique reward and can’t be duplicated.”

Ryan Ruocco on Twitter: "That was a blast. Thanks y'all for having some fun  with us. @Marvel @espn… "

When you listen to anything Ryan Ruocco does in TV, radio, or podcasts, he brings that same energy and enthusiasm to every medium. It goes a long way into making a great broadcast.  

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As History Unfolds, It’s Important for News/Talk Radio to Remain Focused on Playing the Hits

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward.

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A photo of Donald Trump and Joe Biden

The age-old radio adage is to “Play the hits”.

It applies more directly to music stations, but the phrase can also relate to sports talk and news/talk. So, suppose you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself behind a microphone on a news/talk station the last couple of weeks. In that case, you might be having an internal conversation about whether you’ve focused too much on the national political discourse since the unforgettable Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden debate on June 27th.

My short answer is: No, you’re not too focused. 

But in an effort to not stop this column at 100 words, I’ll explain further.

I’ve long advocated for focusing your local shows on your local radio markets as much as possible. It will separate your show from the national syndication that can be piped into any station nationwide. Your local flair is what will build your credibility in your community. It’s what will separate you. Local will win. 

And given that it’s been an unusually predictable few months in the election news cycle, there hasn’t been much to lean into on the national political side. Joe Biden was the unimpressive, octogenarian incumbent going up against Donald Trump, who rolled quickly through a primary and was set to be at the top of the Republican ticket for a third-straight election cycle. It was a rematch of 2020, a period in American history most Americans would prefer to forget, given the state of the nation at the time. Unfortunately for many, they are being forced to relive it. 

However, what happened two weeks ago in Atlanta between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has given a massive jolt to an election season that had been relatively boring. Tens of millions of Americans were tuned in that evening, and given Biden’s debate performance, it has kicked off two weeks of speculation of Biden dropping out, party infighting, replacement conversations, various media reports, and drama that we haven’t seen around an incumbent President in an election year since 1968.

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward engagingly and entertainingly while also, when appropriate, bringing on guests who will provide them with insight they can bring to their conversations with friends, at the water cooler, on group texts and on social media.

In a perfect world, you can also localize these national stories by getting reactions from local officials, reading/playing their social media reactions on your show, or if you’re in a swing state, your options beyond that are unlimited.

But now that we are in a national news cycle that has been on fire, don’t force yourself into local talk. Find your top local stories that are compelling and impacting your radio listener’s day-to-day lives, and work to blend it with the historical moment we find ourselves living through on the national political stage. And always be working your hardest to think of and find new angles, while moving the story forward.

In the end, just like your local CHR station has to play Taylor Swift multiple times an hour, you need to give your audience what they want and “Play the hits.” We’re living through history, after all.

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James Golden AKA Bo Snerdley Relishes New Nationally Syndicated Weekend Show

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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(Photo: James Golden)

Radio host, radio executive, producer, author, and a jack of all media trades. Since he was 14-years-old James Golden (AKA Bo Snerdley) has devoted his entire life to the media industry.

The on-air talent’s weekend show —The James Golden Show — just became syndicated through Red Apple Audio Networks.

“I really appreciate having the platform that WABC has provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have a show that’s now in a bunch of different markets and growing! It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Long before Golden hit the airwaves as ‘Bo Snerdley’ on The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a teenager visiting his cousin, DJ Gerry Bledsoe, at work. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. So many things happened that day. In fact, that day was when one of the older guys there, the guy who’s had a reputation as being a real grumpy, curmudgeon type guy, for some reason, took a liking to me.”

He let Golden into the show where Golden learned how to cut tape. “It took me a lot of years before I actually got a job, and ironically, it was at the same station, doing marketing and research, looking at ratings and learning how to analyze ratings and learning how to do marketing. Later on, I moved into the programming side and started doing music research.”

James Golden was one of the first in the country to do music research which led him to WABC. There he worked with the station’s transition from music to their first talk program.

“I think in life you’re given the sort of the things that you need to fulfill whatever destiny you have. I had always been interested in news, politics, and all of it. This dual love I had for music, it allowed me to transition when the station changed format and to become their senior producer of news. And it was at ABC some years later that I met Rush Limbaugh. And of course, that turned into a 30-year relationship.”

The Author of “Rush On The Radio,” recalled the first time the pair met. “So my first day working on his show, I brought him some news stories. I was in the habit of doing that before I even worked on his show. I developed a friendship. When I saw something interesting, that I thought he would be interested in and I would take it to him. So it was a smooth transition for me being rotated on the show.”

It wasn’t before long James Golden became Bo Snerdley. “So I walked in, dropped off some stories, and on the way out he says, ‘Well, everybody on this call screen has got to be a Snerdley, have you come up with your name?’ So The Daily News was on his desk, and it was on the sports page. Bo Jackson was in the news for some of the headlines, but I just wasn’t able watch it. So I just said ‘Bo’ and walked out. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I’d be Bo. But it’s great and I love it. I’m comfortable with either one.”

Golden recalled the time spent with his friend saying, “No words can ever describe it. He was the best that there ever was to me, or ever will be in the industry. His talent, as he said, was on loan from God. But it was something unique. The incredibly intelligent, incredibly hardworking. 30 years in, he still brought it. Even when he was sick, [Rush] did as much of the work that he could to make sure that his show was extremely well researched and well delivered.”

While working on Rush’s show, James Golden also had his own weekend show. He worked 7 days a week for years. Today, he is back at his radio home. “Back at WABC, doing six days on air with them, and it’s just been a wonderful ride for me.”

Throughout the years, the former executive producer turned host has seen significant change in the industry.

“For some people, it’s not as much fun as it used to be. And I’ll just speak frankly about that. When the bean counters took over because of corporate interest — instead of it being a lot of different families with smaller radio groups, it moved into more of a big business — for a lot of people a lot of the fun was taken out of it, because those decisions that used to be made locally are now being made by regional managers or by national managers, some of whom had more of a background in sales and didn’t understand the programing,” he shared.

“So there’s always that schism. And so for a lot of people in the industry, I have friends who have left the industry because it just was no longer fun for them.”

Another big difference? You no longer have to work your way up through the markets.

“You had to work your way up through lower markets to get to a higher market. You don’t have to do that now. People that are just good at what they do, if they have very good communication skills, you can learn how to become [one of the] best radio hosts. There’s only one best radio host and [Rush] passed away, but it is still about your ability to tell a good story. To understand and to I think it really is how much you are in love with the medium yourself.”

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The Difference Between News/Talk Radio Programmer and Bureaucrat

The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets.

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Let’s talk about the worst aspect of every news/talk radio programmer’s job: commercial stops, those designed traffic jams that occur every ten or twenty minutes bringing your excellent content to a dead halt. And so, you wait, knowing full well that you’re losing a significant percentage of your audience to button pushers looking for a station where talkers are still talking and news is still being broadcast.

The way most news and talk radio stations operate today commercial clutter takes up 20-30 minutes of each programming hour. It would be nice to say that’s because your inventory is sold out thanks to great ratings but we know better. It happens because it’s allowed to happen. Some of that load is likely bonus spots and far too much of it consists of recorded promos that use branding phrases begging the listener to wait through the clutter.

Yes, commercials are necessary but there are some things to consider that might make them less annoying and potentially informative and entertaining.

Warning: old fart flashback straight ahead.

When I was a young program director I had the authority to reject any spots that I didn’t feel met our standards. Yes, I’m quite serious. I didn’t exercise the option often but if a spot was of lousy audio quality, badly produced, boring, or even just plain stupid, I could kick it back to the sales exec and/or ad agency and ask them politely to make it better.

You might think that could result in an impolite opposite reaction. It never did, not once. From time to time I talked with an advertiser or his agent and they always said the same thing: You’re the expert. I want my time and money spent well on your station.

Sales execs could get annoyed but usually went along as good teammates without too much grousing. Besides, schmoozing clients with better ideas is part of their art; the best enjoy it.

Often these conversations would lead to brainstorming sessions with the production director. (Remember that creative and crucial position?) Ideas were tossed around, writing began and a highly effective ad was usually the result.

If you’re a program director or air talent today your mind must be reeling. It has probably never occurred to you that you could have the authority to actually determine all of your news/talk station’s programming, not just the words between the breaks, every blessed minute. Why not? You’re responsible for your station’s content 24/7 though you have no control over half of it.

Most program directors in corporate-owned stations today have been hired as functionaries at the end of a long chain of corporate bureaucrats. Your days are filled with layers of programming and sales hierarchies. Presidents have lieutenants, regional and format V.P.s, who send out the memos and convene Zoom meetings to address general issues with generalized answers.

They dive into recent studies and charts for boilerplate policies, seldom suggesting anything bold or of local significance because they can’t, they don’t know your town. The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets. They’re smart enough to know that what worked in Boston might not fly in Amarillo – except in a vague, general way.

As a local PD today your log is bloated, your programming is filled with syndicated shows, and your hands are tied. 

Unless you have a creative fire in your belly and the guts to assert it.

Dream up great promotions that will excite your audience in your hometown. Enlist the members of your on-air, newsroom, and production staff. Invite them to a pizza place for some brainstorming. Don’t make it mandatory, suggest it will be fun and exciting because it will. Your crew will be happier and bubbling tomorrow. Before long fresh ideas will start trickling in regularly because everyone is enthused, involved, and feeling appreciated. You’ll all make each other’s great ideas even greater. You’re having fun and it’s contagious.

If you can ignite a spark of excitement and faith from your GM and sales department you might find yourself with the programming reigns in both hands.

You weren’t hired to be a clickbait expert, you are a radio expert. You know more about the stuff that comes out of the speakers than anyone else at the station. And you can identify problems and turn them into opportunities. You need to spend your days refining the product, not in endless meetings trying to implement generalized corporate buzzspeak into local program policy.

Attend the Zoom meetings, be a cheerful good soldier but if called upon speak your mind with truth and passion. It’s infectious.

Explain to your boss why you should be allowed to reduce the on-air clutter by as much as half and that you need to spend most of your time every day with your news and talk talent because they’re your stars. It’s why they pay you. The station and the community are all that matters to you.

Tell her/him you’ll read the interoffice memos faithfully and join digital meetings when you can but that the corporate culture will mostly just have to take care of itself.

And, oh, by the way, you need the authority to reject bad radio commercials.

You may not get everything you ask for but I promise you’ll earn some respect.

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