By Thomas Di Benedetto
Super Bowl 50 is in the books and along with it the wild scene that is Radio Row, as San Francisco’s enormous Moscone Center has been emptied out. Gone are the massive throngs of media and fans. Gone are the gorgeous temporary television sets and seemingly endless rows of radio desks. I actually witnessed the early stages of this massive breakdown during my first time on Radio Row in New York just over two years ago.
I was there with John Kincade to produce a four hour Saturday show and I soon learned that the day before the game, Radio Row is pretty much a ghost town. Sure, there are still plenty of local shows broadcasting and NFL Network was still live, as of course was CBS Sports Radio. But the huge groups of spectators, sports legends and celebrities were long gone. I did, bizarrely, get to shake hands with Jesse Jackson as well as Denver radio host Darren McKee (who just hours earlier had a fascinating debate with Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray on the CBS Sports Radio airwaves about the merits of the NFL’s marijuana policy in a Super Bowl year with two teams from legalized states). McKee ended up being our live guest from Santa Clara after the Broncos’ triumph on Sunday. A perfect example of the value of a Radio Row connection.
As a lifelong fan of sports radio, it was a long-time dream of mine to be a part of Radio Row. But over the years as a listener I became jaded about the entire thing. It’s the same guests every year. Everyone is just trying to sell you something. The place is crawling with PR representatives, corporate handlers and other generally grimy people. My goal this year was to try to bring After Hours listeners a more unique Radio Row guest experience. Amy caught up with friends of the show for fun and loose in-person football conversations (Jay Feely, Steve Weatherford and Pete Prisco). She talked to current players on teams already in interesting offseason transitions (Niners, Giants, Packers). And she talked to Hall of Fame legends with alternative perspectives on the big game and the current state of the league (Troy Aikman, Derrick Brooks and Bobby Bell).
It was extremely professionally rewarding to pull off this strategy and deliver on a guest list truly unique to After Hours. I hope you got to hear it. However, amidst the highest-volume and most insane moments of the week on Thursday afternoon, right after I shook hands with Tim Tebow (and blanked on saying “Go Gators!”) and Ken Griffey’s Jr. & Sr. had just walked through, I had a pretty profound realization. I had been wrong about Radio Row. It’s one of the greatest things about the sports calendar. Fans have a chance to see and even interact with stars from up close. The media gets the chance to work together in a way that completely contradicts the typical competitve and secretive nature of the business. And players past and present get the opportunity to share their knowledge and love for the game with both groups. Sure, 10% of it all is an attempt to sell you something. But the other 90% is pure joy for the true football fan.
Radio Row is essentially a massive football convention. And the biggest networking event in sports. The vast majority of the people that went, spectators, media or otherwise, surely made connections they will value for a lifetime. And as it gets bigger and bigger every year, the passion, knowledge and history of the game becomes a personal experience for more and more people. I can’t believe I ever thought that was a bad thing. And I can’t wait to go back next year.