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The Midweek Motivator – Those Guys Had All the Fun

It seems hardly possible forty-two years ago two mavericks created ESPN. It started in Connecticut where some guys launched a new channel stiffly named, “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.” Today, ESPN is arguably the most successful sustaining network in TV history.

And, though personalities have come and gone, spanning several Radio and TV channels and around the Globe, ESPN is an unprecedented Media empire.

Three decades ago in the first credible effort to chronicle ESPN’s stunning breakout, Tom Shales and James Miller wrote their brilliant account of ESPN’s triumph titled “Those Guys Have All the Fun.” The story was so compelling because the authors went back to the pilot lineup; and there will never be another like it! Soon-to-be sports television superstars, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Chris Berman, Bob Ley, Linda Cohn, Jim Rome and Robin Roberts were only a few of the names that became ESPN superstars and contributed to Miller and Shales’ epic account.

And from the start ESPN’s programming hierarchy assembled a cache of some of the world’s most celebrated athletes, just to top-off their tank. Without challenge the best and still most brilliant chronicling of ESPN’s improbable ride to super-stardom can be found in Miller and Shales’ book, “Those Guys Have All the Fun”. From unknown visionary producers to some of today’s most celebrated Sports faces and voices on Radio or TV, ESPN reigns supreme.

Fast-forward, what can today’s “Talk Radio” steal from ESPN’s remarkable assault on Sports that can still be universally applied forty years-hence? For starters, Miller and Shales chronicled the personalities who fueled ESPN’s meteoric television success; the crusty Chris Berman at the head of the list. Then, include the guy viewed as ESPN’s best “journalist” Bob Ley (pronounced “Lee”) who endowed ESPN with an unshakeable mission: “all sports, all the time” fueled by exceptional talent and perhaps most difficult, “content budgeting.”

The Network went on to build a franchise for play-by-play; College football and basketball, NFL and NBA coverage (though it would be years before the network would seize a foothold in Pro Sports). In their long admired book celebrating ESPN’s rise to sports prominence, Miller and Shales reflect, “perhaps it was some higher power who was a true sports fan; someone or something intervened to help ESPN through its dark and sometimes bleak days.”

And once-lowly little Bristol Connecticut has been transubstantiated into the world headquarters for a globally-branded dominating presence. Several different members among ESPN’s leadership became the right people at the right moment for the eras in which they served. ESPN might have ignobly slid into oblivion had it not been for America’s passion for sports of all genre and some men and women who were intrepid in seeing their dream to its reality.

Miller and Shales’ reflected, “ESPN’s playing field has been populated with winners and losers, champions and chumps, heroes and villains. It’s a shared story of struggle, defeat, more struggle, losses…and, ultimate victory.” ESPN’s evolution has spanned across decades; not unlike Radio’s eras, ownerships, triumphs, and tragedies. So here we are in 2022; gazillions of weekly listeners seeking formats and personalities that meet their expectation. Be assured ours’ too, is a saga entering a new chapter. Are we ready?