by R.L. Bynum
Maniscalco’s dream TV job unlikely if not for bad break
Mike Maniscalco admits that he sometimes pinches himself “to make sure this is real.”
His love of hockey, cultivated growing up in western New York, was evident when he was a morning drive talk show host for WDNC (Buzz Sports Radio). His love of his current job as a host and in-game reporter for Carolina Hurricanes TV broadcasts is obvious.
“It is a dream job, there’s no two ways about it,” said Maniscalco, who is in his second season working on the Fox Sports crew. “If you would have told me at 21 that I would be doing this, I would have signed up right away. That was one of the things: To cover a team, to go around the country and be able to be a sports broadcaster and do this job is without a doubt a dream job. There’s no doubt.”
The odd part about his career shift is that it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for a frustrating and unexpected day of his career in June 2016. Capitol Broadcasting Company (which owns WDNC) canceled “The Morning Show” after less than a year and Maniscalco lost his job. Maniscalco had been on the Triangle sports airwaves for nearly nine years, with Mark Thomas (before leaving in July 2015) his co-host for eight of them. After that, Lauren Brownlow (who still is with CBC) and Demetri Ravanos (who also lost his job) were his co-hosts.
Maniscalco quickly found another radio gig with IMG Sports.
With CBC cutting ties to Maniscalco, he was no longer going to be the host for “Stormfront” or “The Aftermath” — the pregame and postgame shows on WCMC (99.9 The Fan) radio coverage of the Hurricanes. “Adam and Joe” producer Alec Campbell now is the host for those shows after former Triangle sports-radio host Morgan Patrick handled those duties last season.
Being off Canes pregame and postgame radio shows worked in his favor when the previous TV host, Michelle McMahon, took an NHL Network job before the 2016–17 season.
“I talked to the folks who offered me the job and they said that they wouldn’t have taken me into consideration as a candidate because they liked the job I did for radio,” said Maniscalco of the previous times the job opened. “The people here who do the hiring for this position, they didn’t think there would be any chance that I would ever leave radio. When things like this opened up in the past, it was like, ‘we never reached out to you because we didn’t think you would leave radio for it.’ ”
That clearly wasn’t the case.
While he enjoyed his brief time at IMG and the concept of his college-sports shows, he didn’t have to think long about shifting his office view from a Winston-Salem studio to ice level at 31 NHL arenas. He’s never looked back after putting his 20-plus years radio career behind him.
Even Maniscalco wouldn’t have believed anybody who had suggested a few years ago he’d be out of radio today.
“No, no. Not at all. Not a chance,” he said. “Radio was going to be the path and my next move probably would have been in some kind of management position for radio, not anything for TV.”
He includes himself in the group surprised that he doesn’t miss radio.
“I thought I really would, but I haven’t,” he said. He certainly doesn’t miss the alarm clock going off at 4 a.m. after a late night of hosting “Aftermath” for a West Coast Canes game.
“The one thing about radio: Nobody ever complained if I wore a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and sneakers to work. I do kind of miss the dress code for radio … which there isn’t one,” he said. “When I did a postgame show on radio, nobody cared if my tie was done or undone. Now that is something you have to be conscious of.”
His wardrobe of suits and ties has expanded, as well as his ability to quickly tie a tie. He’s also learned to wear comfortable and not-the-most-fancy footwear on the road. Why? He’s often positioned near the Zamboni and must sometimes walk around in an inch or so of water. He jokes that his biggest challenge on the road often is avoiding getting hit by the Zamboni.
“As far as the radio side of things, I thought I would miss it a lot more than what I do. I really like TV more than I thought I would,” he said, adding that he gets his radio fix with the weekly “CanesCast” podcast he does with web editor Michael Smith. He’s also the host of the monthly “Canes Corner” radio show (which airs on WCMC), but Maniscalco says that’s not radio as much a conversation with a player.
His early-morning work days are rare these days but travel has soared with his career change.
“There have been days when I don’t know what day it is, I just know it’s a game day or it’s not a game day when we’re on the road,” Maniscalco said. “I have no complaints. I like to travel. It’s not that big of a hassle for me. During the season, you get to a point where it’s a grind where you’re happy to be home but still … you’re traveling on a chartered jet and you’re staying at nice hotels in great cities across the country and in Canada. People say you reach the point where you get tired of traveling. I’m nowhere near that point right now.”
Maniscalco is the fourth person to fill the job since Bob Harwood became the first host for the 2011–12 season (his only season in the job). Chantel McCabe (now with the Golf Channel) took that role for three seasons. Her contract wasn’t renewed after the 2014–15 season. McMahon (now a reporter for the Big Ten Network and NBC Sports Chicago) replaced McCabe, but only stayed with the Hurricanes one season.
“She was great,” Maniscalco said of McMahon. “When I got the job, I reached out to her and she was spectacular with advice and she’s a star. I’m so happy that she’s with the Big Ten Network and does stuff for the Blackhawks for home games. She’s just a great person.”
Three common misconceptions have to be cleared up: Hockey isn’t his favorite sport (that would be baseball; he’s a New York Yankees fan); he’s employed by the team and not Fox Sports; and this isn’t his first time in television.
“When I graduated college, I thought that was going to be my career path,” said Maniscalco, who earned a broadcast journalism degree from the State University of New York College at Buffalo (Buffalo State), said of TV work.
“Everybody thinks it’s my first time in TV. It’s not,” he said. “I have a working knowledge of the producer-talent relationship. Cameras, timing, things that you have to do. I’m long-winded. Timing becomes a problem every now and again but they just tell me to move on to the next thing and it’s fine. Radio has helped out with that.”
One of his TV role models is Matt Yallof, an MLB Network host and reporter, who is doing well after suffering a stroke a year ago. Maniscalco was a producer at WKBW-TV in Buffalo when Yalloff was a weekend anchor.
“I don’t want to say I copied him,” Maniscalco said of Yallof. “But watching Matt, producing for Matt, working with Matt: He was the talent that if I ever got in front of the camera, that was what I wanted to be like. Hopefully, I’ve been doing that.”
Maniscalco was at the station when the Buffalo Bills lost to Tennessee Titans in the “Music City Miracle” game.
“So that was the path that I thought I was going to be on,” he said. “But then I was offered a full-time job in radio as a talk host and I couldn’t turn it down at the time and my path went from what I thought was going to be — TV — into radio.”
He became an afternoon-drive host at WRNL in Richmond in 2001 and was there until he joined CBC in October 2007.
The experience of knowing the preparation time needed for the radio shows before and after Canes games for nine seasons, together with his TV experience, made the transition smooth. He was already had extensive institutional knowledge of the league and the team.
“The prep isn’t as different as it used to be,” he said, comparing doing the radio show to the TV show. “You just have to think more of the ‘how am I going to say this’ versus ‘how can I show this.’ The tough part for me is the visuals, to get that down. That is the big adaptation.”
There was an ongoing joke among CBC sports hosts who would mimic an “Aftermath” caller complaining about the team, prefaced with “MIIIIIIIIKE!” He doesn’t have to take those calls anymore, but he says he still gets that sort of feedback about the Canes on Twitter.
“As far as prep goes, I put in the same amount of prep that I would for a radio broadcast, I just have more time to do it now,” he said. “So, there’s more things that I can take care of.”
When he was working between the benches in Nashville one night, he suddenly realized how many more people know him because he’s on TV.
“The referee skates over to me and goes, ‘I’ve got to ask you, are you related to Sebastian Maniscalco the comic?’ That’s the first thing an NHL referee’s ever said to me,” Maniscalco said. “And I’m, ‘wait a minute, how does he know that’s my [name]? … He probably watches games on TV and knows who I am.’ That was pretty cool.”
He said that the TV crew – from announcers John Forslund, Tripp Tracy and Shane Willis to Jim Mallia (producer), Mike Roth (director), Adam Holzman (pregame show producer), Tracy Cook (video) and Dean Meglio (graphics) – makes it easy for him to do his best work.
“They have made the transition for me as easy as possible,” Maniscalco said. “They basically said, just keep doing the prep that you’re doing, and it works out.”
Maniscalco works closely on the air with Willis, a former Canes player who is the “Hurricanes Live” co-host for home games.
“Shane, one he’s a great person, but two, the chemistry and the repertoire that he and I have put together in the season and a half plus that we have been doing it,” Maniscalco said. “I just like working with the guy. I can set him up for a question and he answers it easier. That has made my life tremendous going into a pregame show knowing that, for home games, Shane is going to be able to explain it. I can talk the hockey lingo a little bit with him so that makes him happy, and we go from there.”
Working with Forslund also has been rewarding for him.
— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) January 23, 2018
”There is none better than him,” Maniscalco said. “He makes my life so much easier when it comes to these broadcasts, and working with Tripp Tracy is great. I just want to become as good as I can in this role and be a complement to those two professionals and hopefully my role expands.”
Maniscalco’s job covering the Hurricanes is obviously very different than, for example, Chip Alexander’s job covering the team for consolidated News & Observer/Herald-Sun sports staff. Even if Alexander was covering the Canes on the road, he wouldn’t fly on the team plane as Maniscalco does. But that’s just one of many differences, with Maniscalco’s role much like a reporter for a college sports information department.
“Being that I’m a team employee, it’s not a fine line but there is the responsibility of my job,” he said. “There are still reporter instincts of it, but reporting for the team point of view and putting those things out. There are not any constraints. But, at the same time, there is that slight difference, being around the team, having access, then when I do have a question because I’m around the team on a daily basis. The players see me, the coaches see me, the trainers see me, if I have a question, it’s easier for me to ask questions now than it would be if I was on the outside trying to get information on what’s happening with the team.”
Maniscalco is quite happy with his current job, although another dream career shift would be to become the play-by-play voice for his beloved Yankees.
“My goal is just to be as very good at this job as I could possibly get,” he said. “I’m 42, so trying to be realistic with my goals. I wouldn’t mind having a national anchor job with NHL Network or something like that. That would be great, but I’m very happy where I am right now.”
And, no doubt, fans also are glad he’s there.
Excellent coverage of Hurricanes ownership change
All of the Triangle media outlets produced terrific coverage of Thomas Dundon taking over as majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos. Flagship radio station WCMC (99.9 the Fan) covered it extensively and the TV stations were all over it.
But The N&O covered it like newspapers have traditionally covered big stories. It was splashed over most of the sports front, an open second page and all of a third page the day after it became official.
The six stories in the Jan. 13 print edition were just the culmination of coverage of the process. Columnist Luke DeCock did outstanding work with stories on Dundon in the weeks leading to the sale. There were four columns before the sale became final that told readers everything they needed to know about Dundon and the ramifications of the change for the franchise.
Voice of college football’s first game? Duke-Clemson
Sports lost another one of its great voices earlier this month when Keith Jackson died at the age of 89.
He was known as THE voice of college football. What many may not know? The first college football game he called was an ACC game in 1966 between Clemson and Duke. The Tigers won 9-6 that day at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, a week before losing at Southern Cal 30-0.
Jackson was also on the call for the 1978 Gator Bowl when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson’s Charlie Bauman after the Tigers defender returned an interception. Shortly afterward, Jackson quipped, “and we’ve got a big fight goin’ on” and “ah, come on now; quiet down, folks!”
A year later, he was on the call of the 1979 Gator Bowl in which North Carolina beat Michigan 17-15.
Sports radio lineup changes
Replacing “The Real Time with Bomani Jones” on WDNC this month was ESPN Radio’s “The Will Cain Show.” It was going to be a show with Cain and Ryen Russillo, but Russillo declined a contract extension.
Now airing on afternoon drive time on WCLY (95.7 The Ticket) from 3–6 p.m. is a tape-delayed presentation of “The Stephen A. Smith Show,” featuring the former Winston-Salem State basketball player, which airs on ESPN Radio from 1–3 p.m. The Russillo show formerly aired in that slot.
Hear about proposed changes in hunting regulations?
This month marked the end of the outdoors page in The N&O. If that page still existed, that might have been where you would have read about the North Carolina Wildlife Commission’s proposed changes in hunting regulations. They include an end to the tradition of Thanksgiving week deer hunting. If you missed it, you can read about it in the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Changes at the top of A2 of The Herald-Sun
The N&O and Herald-Sun have had a consolidated sports staff, led by Steve Ruinsky, the N&O’s sports editor, for months. Despite that, the staff list at the top of A2 of The Herald-Sun still has listed N.C. State beat writer Steve Wiseman as its sports editor. That changed with Wednesday’s edition, which lists Ruinsky as sports editor and no longer lists the old Herald-Sun sports number. Wiseman, the former sports editor of The Herald-Sun, also is no longer listed.
North Carolina-related stories of note
C.L. Brown of The Fieldhouse (The Athletic’s college-basketball site) did an interesting story on Duke guard Trevon Duval’s eyesight issues. Duval tried to ignore and live with them for years before he arrived on the Duke campus.
Former UNC track-and-field athlete Victoria Jackson, in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, compares the college sports system to Jim Crow, contending that it undervalues black lives in American society and its institutions.
Even though the Charlotte Hornets’ season hasn’t gone well, Konata Edwards, in an Uproxx piece, contends that tanking isn’t an option.
Ed Hardin of the News & Record of Greensboro wrote about the lack of excitement surrounding the upcoming NASCAR season and how the sport is grooming Chase Elliott as “the next big thing.”