Sports Media

‘New kid’ aces his homework

Tedy Bruschi is a natural in front of a microphone - so the retired Patriots linebacker might just stay there. Tedy Bruschi is a natural in front of a microphone - so the retired Patriots linebacker might just stay there. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / September 4, 2009

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Damon Amendolara isn’t even a full month into his gig as the weeknight host on “98.5 The Sports Hub,’’ and already he has proven this to be true:

An unfamiliar voice who makes an effort to be deeply knowledgeable about his subject matter is a considerably more appealing option than a familiar voice that does not.

In a media market in which name recognition too often trumps competence, Amendolara, a 30-year-old New Yorker via (most recently) Miami, is not a retread but a revelation. During his 6-11 p.m. shift (plus occasional weekend duty), he has demonstrated some fundamental characteristics that should be appealing to the discerning listener:

He has a polished and poised radio persona, easing the concerns of Boston fans who fretted upon hearing of the Warwick, N.Y., native’s hiring that he might sound like some shrill combination of Chris “Mad Dog’’ Russo and Liza Minnelli; he treats callers respectfully but keeps the let’s-trade-Jason-Varitek-for-Joe-Mauer crowd on a short leash; and he has a well-considered opinion while willing to hear out those that might be even better considered.

Judging by the feedback received at this address, listeners greatly enjoy Amendolara’s approach, with the word “refreshing’’ being a common refrain. So much for being the outsider.

“It’s kind of like being the new kid at school,’’ said Amendolara. “Everyone is trying to figure out who you are at first. But three weeks in, the reaction has been so good, and everyone has made me feel so welcome. It’s an incredible feeling to have Boston fans embrace the show in this way.’’

For someone so young, Amendolara already has a number of stickers on his suitcase. He joined WQAM in Miami in January 2008, hosting the “The D.A. Show’’ on weeknights. Previously, he worked at Kansas City’s 610 Sports beginning in September 2003 and hosting the morning show from August 2004 to December 2007. He also worked at Sportsradio 770 ESPN in Fort Myers, Fla., shortly after graduating from Syracuse with a degree in broadcast journalism in ’01.

He became familiar to decision-makers at CBS Radio - parent company of the “The Sports Hub’’ - by doing fill-in and overnight shifts on sports radio powerhouse WFAN 660 in New York City while he was home visiting family, most recently in July. That association played a significant role in Amendolara ending up where he is now. When he learned that CBS Radio was starting up stations in various cities, he made it known that if anything opened up in Boston, he’d be interested.

“Everything appealed to me about Boston,’’ Amendolara said. “When I heard about the opportunity, I told them, ‘I’d love to do it in any role you have for me.’

“Money didn’t matter. I wanted to get to a place where the fans really cared about sports, a sophisticated sports market, and those places are on the East Coast - Boston, Philly, New York.

“Being in Miami, there was apathy - people weren’t from there, the games weren’t sold out, there wasn’t the passion. When you’re hosting a sports talk show, you exist in a vacuum; if you don’t have callers, don’t have people listening, then you don’t exist.’’

The natural question when his hiring was announced by “The Sports Hub’’: Who is this guy and what does he know about Boston sports? While Amendolara is not a native son, he has ties to Boston he says are meaningful to him. He attended games at Fenway Park and Boston Garden as a kid and was instantly smitten. And he’s had a number of relatives attend college here.

He was familiar enough with Boston to realize a long time ago that it was a place he wanted to be. But when the hope became a reality, he knew it would be wise to take “a crash course’’ in Boston sports history.

“The Red Sox are always a national story, the Patriots and Celtics, they’re always playing big national games, always on ‘SportsCenter,’ so it’s easy as a sports fan to know about them to a fundamental degree,’’ Amendolara said. “But I knew that coming into this market, you really needed to be plugged into them, to have that depth of knowledge to be able to converse with a caller who has been going to Fenway as long as he can remember, or you’re going to be exposed extremely quickly.’’

So Amendolara immersed himself in the city’s newspapers and sports blogs, read a library’s worth of books about the Red Sox, and grilled his friends in Boston for their insights and opinions. And even then, he knew there was more he needed to do.

“You can read all you want, do all the homework you want, but you really need to know the context of where the passion and the angst lies,’’ Amendolara said. “So much of it is about context and feel.

“You have to know the real history, so I asked a lot of questions, and I’m still asking a lot of questions: ‘What was the relationship between this coach and this quarterback, what was the perception of this outfielder and why,’ that sort of stuff.

“I hate listening to ill-prepared hosts, and for me to walk into a new city and thrust my opinions on people, [that would be] disrespectful.

“This isn’t about building a persona or some sort of contrived character. I’m talking sports for five hours every night. If you have a question, I have to be able to answer it, because no one around here is going to be fooled if you can’t.’’

Bruschi’s next stop
Can’t imagine anyone would disagree that Tedy Bruschi set the standard for graceful goodbyes by a retiring professional athlete.

Bruschi stood out among his peers during his 13 NFL seasons for his ability to articulate his passion for football. His press conference Monday only enhanced his reputation as a gifted speaker.

And his eloquent farewell to his first career may have set the stage for his second.

“Tedy would be a natural on television, radio, as an analyst,’’ said Brad Blank, Bruschi’s agent. “Without even lifting the phone, Tedy had received three radio and three television opportunities, including one national.’’

In fact, Bruschi had barely stepped down from the podium before he received a significant inquiry.

“Not more than five minutes after his press conference was over, ESPN called to gauge his interest,’’ Blank said. “It’s fair to say he’s made his share of good impressions.’’

While Blank said it isn’t a certainty that Bruschi will pursue a media career - coaching is another of Bruschi’s interests - he indicated that the former linebacker is giving it serious consideration.

“We haven’t really gotten into specifics with anyone,’’ Blank said. “The next stop is to take inventory and figure out what the next step is. But I do know that Tedy isn’t going to sit around. He wants to stay busy.’’

In the zone
Forget the first-round draft picks; this is a leading candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year.

The NFL RedZone channel, which is produced by the NFL Network and promises to offer a live, high-definition look at every significant on-field moment during Sunday afternoon games, is ready to launch Sept. 13, the first weekend of the season.

Better yet, it will be available to cable and dish subscribers via three different distributors. On Wednesday, Verizon announced its agreement to carry the RedZone channel through Verizon FiOS TV. That follows previous distribution deals the NFL Network reached with Comcast and Dish Network.

For the diehard NFL fan - in particular the fantasy junkie and those who might enjoy wagering on a game or two - the channel should fast become a favorite. Hosted by Scott Hanson from the NFL Network’s Los Angeles headquarters, the channel will keep fans up to date in real time, switching from game to game with live look-ins, particularly when a team is inside the 20-yard-line.

The goal is for fans to see every important play during Sunday’s games as they happen.

Sounds like a fine way to spend an autumn Sunday, no?

It should be noted that NFL RedZone, which is produced by NFL Network, differs from DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel, which is part of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package.