10 Questions with ... Tony Bruno
April 16, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Tony is a sports radio veteran, having worked at the top three national American sports broadcasters: ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio, Sporting News Radio; and has held a job at one of the three networks near-continuously from 1992. He currently works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.
1. Let's go back to when you started in the business, back at WIFI and WFIL. If you could go back and give your younger self some words of career advice, what would you tell yourself?
I wouldn't change anything, really. I got a chance right out of broadcasting school - in college- to work overnights at WIFI in the Philly suburbs. That valuable experience at age 18 put me in a position to start learning on the job doing minor things like reading weather forecasts and news on a pre-taped music formatted station. WFIL hired me to do overnight news a year later at a legendary major top 40 station with huge ratings and an amazing staff of news and super talented top-40 jocks. The only downside was being "the kid," and, thus, I stayed on overnights until 1976 learning the craft and becoming a better news reporter, sports reporter, and broadcaster.
2. As one of the pioneers of the format, how has sports talk radio changed since the early days of all-Sports radio? Has it become more or less restrictive, more or less creative? Is it better or worse now then it was in the early years?
I was fortunate to make the switch from all news to news and sports when I was 21 and started covering the Phillies and Flyers in addition to doing overnight news, so when the sports radio scene started to open up, I was ahead of the curve with a news, sports and broadcasting background that very few had. It's changed a lot due to the sheer number of radio stations, networks and blogs - and with the newspaper and TV sports part of the media drying up on the local level, radio has become filled with some great writers-turned-broadcasters, but also loaded with many who are great writers and athletes, but terrible on the air. It's all about finding a spot and becoming popular enough to get ratings and stay on the air. I find it's much easier for younger broadcasters who can go from intern one day to daytime host a lot faster these days, but that comes with the reality of working for low wages and hoping to get enough time to develop a following, and thus leverage to command more money. That's probably the hardest part for the young men and women starting out today.
As for creativity: depends on who you work for and if the PD feels it will drive ratings and revenue. Restrictions are tighter, especially if you work for a big company protecting partnerships with teams or leagues and are discouraged from dispensing even legit critical observations. Is is better? Hard to say. Lots of choices for sure, so you'd better do something unique, if that's possible much anymore. I know it's hard to compare and without sounding like a pompous jerk with a big ego - which those who know me realize I'm not - working with John Madden, Don Criqui, Charley Steiner, Keith Olbermann and Curt Chaplin at RKO Radio Networks in NY in the '80s, and then being hired by ESPN as one of the first 3 voices ever on ESPN radio with Chuck Wilson and Keith Olbermann in 1992 provided maybe the best weekend radio shows ever produced. It was good to be part of that era, and I was fortunate Charley Steiner suggested that ESPN pursue me at the time.
3. Is there something you haven't done in the business that you'd like to do? Or have you covered it all? What are your goals for the future?
Looking back, I have no regrets and have pretty much done everything from radio, sports, play-by-play, voice-overs, national and local TV, video games and some silly movie stuff.
Travelling the world and doing what I love has been a blessing not many get to pursue from an early age. I once tried to explain to my immigrant mom in 1968 that radio was in my blood and nothing was going to stop me from pursuing this unlikely career path. I always wanted to absorb from those who were better and smarter to reach my goals of being one of the best.
The future will be interesting, as I feel comfortable in any medium. I would even love to do a hybrid show (Sports, news, music, fun & entertaining show, from a tropical location or lighthouse) taking phone calls from locals and tourists and re-unite my "Into the night" crew; sort of like Adrienne Barbeau in "The Fog," but without the Zombie Pirates hell-bent on revenge. Either that, or some stream of consciousness TV show on Travel Channel having fun on a beach with clean, warm water and great year round weather and near some great amusement parks with awesome roller coasters. In all seriousness, doing a hybrid TV/radio show that covers Sports, News and Entertainment would be great fun.
4. You've done national radio for years, and you're doing local Philly radio now with some national fill-in. How different are the local and national audiences? Are Philly callers more, less, or equally knowledgeable, measured against a national audience?
Local radio is fun, especially in your own home town where you know the fans because you are one of them and think alike. It's certainly more limited as far as what drives ratings and PPM meters (God, I never thought Arbitron diaries would be so badly missed) There is a tendency to beat a topic to death day-after-day, making it tedious sometimes for someone who likes to have fun doing this format. Philly fans are definitely more passionate than most cities and follow a larger variety of sports with franchises in every major league and huge college hoops flavor.
National radio gives you a bigger palette, and you can talk bigger picture issues, which many local markets may have little or no interest in. Also easier to talk to various guests nationally on stories which impact more listeners.
5. Who are your mentors, influences, and heroes?
Since I started my radio addiction at the age of 13 staying up late at night and listening to so many voices all over America, the influences were many, but always guys who sounded great on the radio.
I wanted to sound great first; in my line of thinking that's how I could become great. The local guys on WFIL were bigger than life in those glorious days of AM radio. I just wanted to be on and it didn't matter what I did. Long John Wade and Dave Parks were the 2 DJs who would take my late night calls and talk radio with a young punk kid thirsting for knowledge and advice. Wade opened a broadcasting school and I become one of his first students. He helped me get my first job at WIFI and then it was Jack Hyland, the news director of WFIL who gave me a shot at becoming a newsman. Ira Mellman, Glenn Barton and the legendary Allan Stone helped me immensely with writing and presentation and paved the way for my confidence and growth.
Heroes? My mom. An amazing woman who never lived a lavish life and went to work immediately after my dad died in 1962 at age 39 to support me and her 2 young daughters. Never remarried, never took a dime from anyone, and her strength is what made me strong growing up without a father figure.
6. What's your process -- how do you prepare for each show? What resources do you use?
Info gathering has become easier, but I try to scan around and catch the local games every night and then watch the national high-lites to not miss anything important. I pop on the Internet when I get home at 1:30 every afternoon for a couple of hours to see what's happening, but don't watch any of the TV "talking and screaming head" shows so as to develop my own opinions. Go to games here and there, but locker room stuff is easier to follow at home on TV postgames and I prefer hanging in the stands with the fans to get a better feel of the mood. Yahoo and ESPN are good resources for the stats. Too many blogs, but luckily I follow the top blogs on Twitter so I can open a link to the most interesting stories. Fans have equal access anymore, so pretending to know more than some guy sitting at home isn't what I try to do.
Trying to find the stuff they don't have and injecting entertainment, humor and fun into my shows is always my goal.
7. About what are you most passionate these days?
I must admit that sitting around every night watching NBA and NHL games doesn't float my boat anymore. I think we pick and choose the "bigger" games because that's how the NBA and NHL have marketed their product. Living in LA for 11 years also conditioned me to going outside a lot more on weekends that aren't the NFL season. I love all sports - yes, even soccer, but NFL is my personal favorite because each week is weighted so heavily. Baseball has become slower to me and it seems many fans just go to games to hang out and get wasted. Still love the game, but can't agonize for 162 games all summer.
8. Up to now, of what are you most proud?
Amazingly, it's not even sports related. Had to be that morning on Sept 11th of 2001 when Andrew Siciliano and I were doing our Fox Sports Radio national show in Los Angeles and we saw the live images of the first World Trade Center tower with the smoking hole.
At first, we thought it was a small plane collision, but as soon as we realized what was going on, we did what anyone who dare calls himself a broadcaster was supposed to do: switch to information provider.
I couldn't have been prouder of the entire team who immediately started making phone calls and gathering every fact as it developed before our eyes. Being overwhelmed while trying to stay professional and provide information to hundreds of thousands of people gave me the satisfaction of knowing the audience was experiencing this world changing event along with us.
Each year since then, many will e-mail to thank us for being the first voices they heard describing that dreadful day. I needed my audience and they needed me and we didn't want to leave the air. The most unforgettable, sad, yet cathartic single day of my professional life.
9. I know you've been watching "The Walking Dead"; what other shows have you been watching lately, and what appeals to you about them (including "The Walking Dead," of course)?
Don't watch most reality stuff. "Walking Dead" started out as a curiosity since I didn't read the graphic novels, but the acting and story of survival hooked me. Those who watch know what I'm talking about. I like some of the paranormal shows but love "The Soup" and "Tosh.0" because of the ability to see what I'm glad I don't follow. Obviously I have to watch "Breaking Bad" because my brother Walter White is the star. Most nights after the highlights, I'll flip around and watch DIY, Travel Channel or History Channel. No "Housewives," "Basketball Wives," Kardashians or TLC EVER IN MY PRESENCE!
10. You're active in social media, especially Twitter -- how do you use Twitter and Facebook in conjunction with your show? Do you see them as promotional, personal, show prep, connection with listeners, or all or some or none of the above?
I use both Twitter and Facebook all the time and I don't have anyone posting for me. Facebook is easier to post pics and track lots of reaction and it's not only station stuff or promotions, but personal stuff from my life and travels. It's great to promote upcoming shows and TV appearances and I love being able to interact with my fans. I have my Facebook linked to my Twitter so when I post on FB, it goes on Twitter.
Twitter is a place where I try to post silly stuff or humorous slants on events as they happen during games. Seriously, how many people do we need telling us about a base hit or big 3 point shot each night? I don't try to sell stuff like the phony celebs with millions of fake followers with nothing to say.
Social media is so big and fans love when you follow them and personally respond. I try to connect with as many listeners as possible.
And it helps with show prep when you can follow legit folks from the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL with info. I also like the fake accounts that are funny.