Today I wanted to write about broadcasting as a craft and also the benefits that I think it has given me in my life. I mean I suppose money is an obvious benefit but I don’t mean that. I mean the real and tangible things that come from broadcasting. The connections, the opportunities, the fun, and the nerves.
I bring up connection because that was something that happened to me a few times this weekend. When I do my podcast, I generally do it in my office or living room depending on where I’m staying. It’s just me, talking into a microphone and staring at my computer. And it’s not live, so it really is just an exercise in speaking and trying to fill empty “air.” The connection of course comes when it goes out into the world and into the ears of someone who listens. I can remember countless times listening to radio hosts who had me fully captivated. Where I had pulled up to work or school but didn’t want to get out of the car until the bit or segment was over. I always loved that about radio in particular. Theatre of the mind, but also it was such an intimate medium. You really felt like you knew the hosts and they were your friends for your time in the car.
This weekend at Charles Town and Timonium I had several people come up and say hello and that they listen to the show. That means the world to me of course, but it also puts faces to the faceless situation that I broadcast into. Horse racing is my community and I love that part of my job is facilitating conversations about something I love, for people who love the same thing. We have an instant bond when we meet at the races. For someone who never fit in all that well in school or other areas of life, it’s a real blessing.
Howard Stern was one of two major influences to me in terms of doing any kind of talk broadcasting. Looking past the outrageous and salacious stuff, he’s an extraordinary broadcaster. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone better at keeping listeners attention, at moving a show along, and most importantly, interviewing guests. His interviewing skills and the ability to make his guests comfortable enough to really open up, it’s masterful to listen to. I can’t tell you the number of times he had someone on his show that I didn’t care about at all, only by the end of the interview I wanted to see their movie or buy their CD. Howard’s show mixed in co-hosts, sound effects, and music into a symphony of entertainment. The show has changed a bit in recent years partly due to covid and partly just his own evolution as a person. I don’t listen as much as I did before, but I do still check in sometimes. Of all the broadcast lessons I’ve gotten from Howard, being open and authentic has easily been the most valuable. It’s very important to have good content doing any kind of broadcast. But if the audience doesn’t connect with you as a person, it’s my belief they’ll never stay around long. Over the years I’ve gotten way more notes and tweets when I’ve talked about life, life’s struggles, and big things not directly tied to racing, than I have talking about the early double at Saratoga. To me talking about horse racing is just the vehicle to connect with people who enjoy horse racing. And hopefully connect on meaningful levels.
The other influence was the sports talk radio host Jim Rome. His main influence was that he always did a one person show. He’d have callers and once in a blue moon staff would get on air, but most of his segments were just him. No back and forth, just him giving monologue delivery to an audience. A friend who works in racing told me once that he liked in my show that I seemed to be having a conversation with myself sometimes. That is entirely influenced by Jim Rome’s style.
Influences are funny because I think you can be very influenced by someone and not sound at all like them. When I got into racecalling I’d have said my influences were primarily Vic Stauffer, Tom Durkin, and Robert Geller. Of course, I don’t sound or call like any of them. But listening to them all the time definitely informed my thoughts on what I liked or didn’t like from an announcer. I won’t ever be as good as any of those guys, but I’ve never seen racecalling as a competition. I guess a competition against myself, but not other people. If I can be the best that I can be calling races, I’ll be more than happy with that and where that takes me.
The last thing I want to say about broadcasting is how therapeutic and good for me it has been. There were times I absolutely dreaded doing anything “on air.” As you’ve guessed from previous blogs, I live on the nervous side of things. So the idea of public speaking is terrifying. There have been times where my anxiety was so bad that I was unable to announce and left racecalling. But getting back into racecalling definitely paralleled my getting better from my mental health struggles. It was an opportunity to face my fears and learn to live and deal with my anxiety as opposed to constantly running from it. I still get nervous calling races all the time. Virginia Derby is coming up and I’ll have a knot in my stomach all day that day. With a couple horses left to load I’ll pour some cold water on my neck (look up dive reflex) and my foot will be shaking violently as they break from the gate. But I’ll get through it. And I’ll do good. And if I don’t, i’ll get em the next time. I remember before calling a big race at Monmouth Park and telling my mom I was nervous. She told me “well even if it goes bad I’ll still love you.” I always think about that now before any big race. Even if I call the wrong winner, or stumble, or panic, or anything, my mom will still love me. So will my friends. It’s just a horse race. I make mistakes every so often and I move past them so much faster than I used to. Because I’ve accepted they’re going to happen sometimes. Turn the page.
I love the art of broadcasting and I hesitate to call anything that I do an ‘art’ because lord knows I’m no Picasso at anything. However it’s my occupation and my craft. And I love that each day I do it I get the chance to try and be better at it. And maybe make some connections with people. That’s a worthy job in my books.