written by R.L. Bynum
Sports shutdown meant lost earnings for many in sports broadcasting
Without the pandemic, Chris Edwards or Dave Nathan — or both — could have been in Omaha this week, where the College World Series would have been concluding.
They were each set to call a three-game Duke-North Carolina baseball series at Durham Bulls Athletic Park the second week in March. While UNC (12-7) stumbled early and was 0-3 in the ACC, Duke was 12–4 and No. 10 in two major rankings heading into the Carolina series.
“I started prepping Thursday morning for the Carolina series thinking it’s just going to be like a normal weekend that we’re just gonna play,” said Edwards, the play-by-play voice for Duke women’s basketball and baseball. “By Thursday afternoon, the season’s over and it’s just kind of a weird pill to swallow.”
The sports shutdown sidelined Edwards and Nathan, the baseball play-by-play voice of the Tar Heels, along with plenty of other freelancers in sports media. This is a small part of COVID-19’s overall devastating effect on the economy that has caused jobless rates for people in a wide variety of professions to skyrocket.
“I have sincerely missed telling the stories of the players and assistants, getting to meet new parents and fans, and living a season with all of the highs and lows that inevitably come with it,” said Nathan, who also is the pregame and postgame host on Tar Heel Sports Network’s coverage of UNC men’s basketball and football as well as the host of the statewide “Primetime in the ACC” radio program at 7 p.m. Wednesdays (in the Triangle on WCHL 97.9 FM and WTKK 106.1 FM).
Like many people in sports, they were left to wonder what might have been.
“It’s the matter of when, not if, Duke gets to Omaha. I believe that. I think they’re on the right path,” said Edwards, an East Carolina alum. “I was so looking forward to not just seeing how good our team was going to be but college baseball in the Triangle was going to be loaded this year. It was going to be a really fun year. I’m just sad. We didn’t get a chance to see that.”
Baseball games for N.C. State (14-3 when the season stopped), which also had plenty of potential to make a deep NCAA run, are broadcast by either Gary Hahn or Tony Haynes after basketball season concludes.
Edwards was one of the lucky ones because Duke still paid him every two weeks until early June. He has created content for the school’s athletics website and its social media channels, been co-host of the “Blue Devil 360” podcast with Rebecca Fiorentino and host for the “Inside Duke Women’s Basketball” podcast.
In late March, Edwards started the “Fair Pole Podcast” in which he talks to people involved with baseball in various capacities.
He’s been working part time at WPTF for Curtis Media Group doing news, traffic and sports reports. In addition, his wife Kelly has a full-time job as assistant to sports and championships at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, further cushioning the financial impact. Edwards lost out on work for ACC Network Extra (ACCNE) and USA Baseball.
Edwards was also fortunate that he was on the memorable call of Bryan Jarvis’ perfect game in an 8-0 Blue Devils victory over Cornell on Feb. 22.
”I think the toughest part of the whole thing, especially when everything went down, was just kind of figuring out, OK, what’s my purpose now. It’s not to say that I’m defined by what I do, but a lot of people look at sports as an escape,” Edwards said. “For someone who has a regular nine-to-five job, going home to watch a sporting event or listen to a game or to go to a game — that’s the escape. For us who work in sports, the escape has gone for us, too. I tell people the reason I didn’t want to go into news was because sports is mostly good news — a break from the bad news we get all the time — and now our outlet and our relief have gone. And that’s been the toughest part.”
If team sports are back in August, Edwards will call high school football each Friday for the Sinclair station in the Triad and various Duke non-revenue sports for ACCNE.
Nathan was making his transition from basketball to baseball the week sports shut down. His first baseball broadcasts of the season would have been during the Duke series. As a contract employee paid by the game, Nathan got no pay for baseball season and missed out on a sizable part of his yearly income.
“Money will come and go — but there’s no way to replace a season’s worth of interaction with so many great people,” said Nathan, a University of Tennessee graduate. “Coach [Mike] Fox has done such a fantastic job of surrounding his program with quality people.”
Instead, he spent three months teaching his daughter, who was in first grade.
“I’ve had all my nights and weekends free to spend time with my family,” Nathan said. “That being said, I can’t wait to get back to work!”
Many other freelancers in sports media who don’t cover a specific spring sports team had their schedule of games to work erased. Chris Hooks, Erin Summers and Matt Krause are just three of what Hooks estimates easily are 100 examples in the Triangle of media people, including announcers and other personnel for broadcasts, who lost income because of the abbreviated spring college sports season.
“There’s no safety net,” Edwards said. “Everybody’s an independent contractor. Everybody kind of had it yanked out from underneath them. It’s just the model of the industry. People get upset about it. But, look, the reality of it is if you don’t want to do the job in the current way it’s set up being a contractor, there are a hundred other people that will take your job tomorrow. So, you gotta take the good with the bad sometimes. And I still think the positives outweigh the negative.
“I think that’s the thing that we all forget about is that there are people who are running cameras who work in the trucks that do audio, do all the different stuff behind the scenes that make the broadcast work,” Edwards said. “These people are out of jobs, too. Some of these big industry people, what have they done? You know, they’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Broadcast personnel who cover professional sports teams — including the Carolina Mudcats, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Durham Bulls — have also missed opportunities to work and some working on a freelance basis are facing financial challenges.
Hooks, who was the play-by-play voice of N.C. Central athletics for seven years until December 2014, is lucky that he has a full-time job as an account executive for Curtis Media Group. He missed out, however, on income from about 20 ACCNE games during the spring sports season.
“Honestly, my first thoughts went to the Chris Edwards, the Matt Krauses and the Kyle Straubs and the others that put in a ton of hours with these broadcasts. All of these people are friends of mine, and my heart hurts for them,” Hooks said. Straub works UNC baseball games solo before Nathan joins the broadcast, and then is an analyst once Nathan begins working baseball games.
“I’m extremely fortunate,” said Hooks, a 2004 graduate of Appalachian State. “I also get work running a camera, being a grip, running replay, and anything else that I can just get involved in.”
Summers, who fills many roles on television broadcasts, including sideline reporter, had just worked the Southern Conference men’s basketball tournament and N.C. State’s 8-7 March 11 home baseball victory over N.C. A&T for ACCNE when sports stopped.
Summers was scheduled to work around 40 baseball and softball games in the ACC, Southern Conference and Big South Conference. N.C. State was the only entity that kept paying her, giving her the average of what she earned the previous two months for several weeks. She lost the pay for all of the other games she would have worked.
“Financially, I definitely took a huge hit without a full spring season and summer season of work,” said Summers, a 2008 UNC graduate. “I am someone that never says no to work and works on the production side as well as on-air in order to work as much as possible, knowing freelance work is never guaranteed. So, I have managed to save money and don’t have to bail out of the business just yet, although that won’t be the case forever!”
She has worked as a league reporter for the Coastal Plain League (an amateur wooden-bat league) but that job was cut because of a lack of funds. She has helped with social media content for the Valley Baseball League even though its season was canceled.
“I have been working for them, doing interviews, highlights, research and waiting for what I hope to be a football season,” Summers said.
Krause, who took over as the play-by-play voice of UNC women’s basketball before the 2018–19 season, called it a “jarring spring.” He would have called games for four UNC spring sports for ACCNE as well as two Colonial Athletic Association tournaments (women’s basketball and baseball).
“The uncertainty and emotion of losing out on my passion was the biggest loss in the spring,” Krause said. “It’s a bit better now since this normally would be the offseason. But even now, the professional development sessions feel weird. When will I get the chance to keep getting better? It’s a tough situation. Financially, I’ve definitely adjusted personal budgets.”
The CAA paid him for work he would have done at its women’s basketball tournament.
“They didn’t have to do that. Things will be tougher if we don’t have action in the fall,” said Krause, who is planning to do play-by-play for UNC ACCNE broadcasts of non-revenue sports and be a color analyst and host for Elon football if college sports resume in August.
There is a big question that nobody can answer. Colleges are preparing to resume athletics in August. But will it happen?
“It’s a tough time for everybody,” Edwards said. “No one’s going to feel sorry for us. And that’s OK. And we have bigger issues. We have 4 million people on unemployment in this country. We’ve got some pretty big issues that we need to figure out. Like everybody, I’m hoping that we all bounce back. By the time we get to the fall, at some point, we’ll at least do games again, to get back to some semblance of normalcy.”
Sports media notes
* After nearly seven years as programming director for sports audio at Capitol Broadcasting Company, Dennis Glasgow has been laid off. This came after being put on furlough earlier in the pandemic. He has more than 32 years of experience in the business, including as a sports talk show host and a play-by-play announcer.
* About 2½ months after Joe Giglio left The News & Observer for CBC, where his main duty is as weekday afternoon drive-time co-host of “The OG” on WCMC, McClatchy posted his old job: N.C. State beat writer. Matt Stephens, the McClatchy senior sports editor for North Carolina, said that internal and external candidates will be considered and that he also hopes to hire a second Carolina Panthers beat writer soon. That Panthers job was posted last fall.
* Jonas Pope IV of The N&O, a likely internal candidate to take over the Wolfpack beat, started the “Show Me Your Credentials” Instagram live show in mid-May, in which he interviews sports journalists. Guests have included ESPN NFL Nation Pittsburgh Steelers writer Brooke Pryor, The Athletic’s Clemson writer Grace Raynor, HBCU Gameday founder Steve Gaither, ESPN Radio producer Shannon Penn and Quierra Luck, publisher of AllTarHeels (the rebranded former Maven UNC site). The show, which is also available on-demand on Instagram, generally is at 7 p.m. Tuesdays but the schedule can vary.
* The Athletic laid off Charlotte-based NASCAR writer David Smith in May, in a move that preceded the dismissal of 46 journalists earlier this month. He writes for Motorsports Analytics and is part of the site’s weekly “Positive Regression” podcast.
* Danielle Lerner, the former Louisville beat writer for The Athletic who got laid off earlier this month, quickly got a new job. She’ll cover Memphis men’s basketball for The Daily Memphian, an online news outlet launched in September 2018.
* Recent UNC graduate Chapel Fowler, the son of Charlotte Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler, is a part-time sports writer for The Chatham News + Record and freelancing for other outlets, including The N&O. He helped cover protests for The N&O.
* Patrick Kinas, the play-by-play voice of N.C. State women’s basketball and the Durham Bulls with experience broadcasting at the Olympics, is co-host of a bi-weekly video/audio podcast with five-time Olympic swimmer Dara Torres that started last month called “Hanging With Champions.” Guests have included Tim Tebow, Tony La Russa and gold-medal-winning swimmer Caeleb Dressel.
* Robert Irby, a 2019 Virginia Tech graduate, has joined the Independent Tribune of Concord as a sports reporter. The sports editor of the newspaper is former Herald-Sun, Indianapolis Star and Washington Post sports writer, C. Jemal Horton.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
In The New York Times, Juliet Macur wrote about how the Confederate flag didn’t use to bother NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace — who grew up in Concord — until recent events changed that view and turned him into an activist. This sudden role came as a surprise to his mother.
In The Charlotte Observer, Scott Fowler wrote about the unusual and touching journey to fatherhood of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood.
In The Athletic, Fred Katz wrote about the highs and lows of the career of former Hillside High and Maryland star John Lucas. Lucas’ father was Hillside’s principal and anti-integration protesters used to picket outside their house when he was a kid.
There are plenty of good stories about former UNC star Vince Carter’s exploits with basketball, music and eating in this oral history put together by The Athletic’s Brendan Marks.
In The N&O, Pope wrote about the lessons that N.C. State senior point guard Kai Crutchfield learned growing up with a dad, Buddy, who was a three-sport star at Athens Drive High and played football at N.C. Central and in the NFL.
In The Athletic, Joseph Person wrote an interesting profile of Charlotte-based ESPN personality Marty Smith.