Mike Barrett Interview -- Part III

Welcome to the third and final segment of the marathon conversation with the Voice of the Blazers, Mike Barrett.

In this section I ask Mr. Barrett about: Comcast, 95.5 The Game, whether he will encourage his son to play basketball, and whether or not he took offense at Mr. Eggers' attack upon bloggers earlier this summer. 

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Blazersedge: Comcast is still an open question.  You're in a unique position, when it comes to being a fan, understanding fans and their interests, and yet having your own work broadcast on Comcast.  Do you have a message for Comcast?

I want it done. We all want it done. 

Blazersedge: Are you past frustrated at this point, to a different level? 

I've got to be careful here.

But, I understand everything the fans have said and every frustration they have. I have encouraged fans when I've written on the blog to say, "fire away. You're not hurting my feelings, you're preaching to the choir."  I've tried to tell them, last fall, they were getting close, they were talking. But then I'd write, "I know that I said this a month ago." And then again yesterday, someone said, "they're really close." And I said, "I'm not writing that.  I'm not doing that to people." All they will say is that "you said that last year." 

If you look around the league and around the country, this has happened... the Big 10 network, the NFL network.  That's where we are at. 

I don't want to rip anybody, but I was a Direct TV guy for 10 years; I finally was in an area where I could get Verizon Fios and I did. Cancelled Direct TV just so I could get the channel.  People last year were saying to me that they were frustrated, I'm frustrated too, my wife and kids can't watch any of the games when I'm on a six game road trip!  It affects us all. 

Blazersedge: That's terrible.

People say that the Blazers should have had a guarantee that it was going to be carried on the other providers.  You can't do that.  That's not realistic. 

The deal that Comcast came in and offered both in terms of what they were giving us, was obviously way more money.  Is it about the money, absolutely some of it is.  You've got to make money. 

It wasn't just that: it was the access, the opportunity, the shows, and the scheduling.  When we were on FSN people always said you're second fiddle; they're a Sonics station and you just happen to be on there. This was our opportunity to get our own station and our own network and it still is.  And it is. It's going to happen for Satellite customers. I wish I knew an exact date.

I know that Larry Miller-it's priority one for him. He's tired of hearing about it everywhere he goes.  And even the local Comcast guys would love to have it happen, but this is Philadelphia, Comcast headquarters, they are the ones negotiating. I don't know who to believe or who to blame, I'm a consumer in this like everyone else.  Yeah, it makes me mad.  I wish it were there.  

I think it's not unusual in this day and age to see deals like this. But I never thought it would get to this point.  It stinks.  It stinks that everybody doesn't have it that wants it. 

Does Comcast owe it to the Blazers fans the way that some people have put it?  I don't know. They're a business too.  They have to make ends meet just like everybody else. There is nobody sitting here counting money and chuckling during this whole thing.  Twisting their mustache, laughing, that's not what is happening. It's just people that need to make a deal that needs to make sense for everyone.

Blazersedge: Do you think that's just protectionism from the fans. This is our team. This is our local team - and it's this out of state, huge company - is that what's happening here?

I don't know, I guess so. But I get that as fans.  People ask, if they want to get on the blog or rip us, that's ok.  If that helps them relieve some of their anxiety, I understand.   Every time I get a question like that, I say, "I'm like you, I want it to happen and if I could do anything about it, I would do it. But I can't."

Blazersedge: On the flipside, do you think your on-air stuff is better than it's ever been?

Oh yeah, we have a better product on the floor. You're tested when you don't have much to talk about. You're tested when things aren't going very well. In some ways it was a blessing for me personally to have to do 4 years or 3 and a half years of that.  Because it was a baptism by fire to the industry. Now this is getting easier.  Not only because I have more experience but because our product is getting better and more enjoyable. You don't have to search for stories or search for positives.

Blazersedge: Let's talk radio for a little bit.  Do you have any sense for how 95.5FM is doing ratings-wise against 1080AM, now that it's been a few months that the two stations have gone head to head?

No.  Ratings are a very inexact science.  The only people that it's truly important for are the salesmen that are selling the station.

Blazersedge: Well, they're people too.  Let's not completely dismiss them...

They use those numbers but I've never put much stock in the numbers.  Obviously when you look around at sports stations there aren't a whole lot that have the properties that this station has: Seahawks, Ducks, Blazers.  There just aren't very many of them.

Blazersedge: There's been some talk that there is some friction between these two stations with 95.5 being a new player in the market, a lot of excitement around the buildup of the station.  The biggest names locally.  Do you see that as a passive-aggressive friction or is a direct competition.

Certainly there's competition.  From where you've heard people voicing barbs back and forth are people that have worked for both, like Gavin [Dawson].  To hear some of that, that's natural.  But if I'm the Blazers, the more people talking about us the better.  Have 10 sports stations, that's good. 

I know that when The Game started, it was a month in or so and Kevin Pritchard went to The Fan and went live in the studio. I think they were surprised and one of their guys said, "I thought they were going to freeze us out."  Why do that?  Why limit your outlets?  Why limit or frustrate your outlets? 

I know and like those guys.  I want them to do well. It's a good company and I want them to succeed as much as I want The Game to succeed. I like sports radio anyway.  I think to have competition-competition is what breeds excellence. If you just have one of a kind, you get sloppy. Give the DMV some competition and you wont have a two hour wait.

Blazersedge: Do you think 1080AM was getting sloppy?

No.

Blazersedge: Oh, ok. [laughing at myself for getting shot down]

To have a competitor is a check and a balance.  You better stay on top of it, or somebody else is going to get it.  It's healthy - it's healthy for any business.

Blazersedge: But you don't look at the numbers?  Do you look at your TV numbers?  Do you treat those sets of two different numbers differently?

We look at TV numbers.  I think TV numbers are a little bit more accurate than radio numbers. I don't even know that for a fact but I'm just like that. We absolutely look at numbers. 

Last year during the season we beat American Idol several times handily.  And it was huge.  We were excited about that.  To hear numbers coming in, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 ratings.  Back in the day, we are never going to top the old numbers in the 20s, when there weren't as many options on TV.  Our TV ratings in this market compared to other markets are just incredible. 

When we had David Stern on our game with us this past season, he mentioned that he has seen the numbers out here and he said it was an amazingly positive thing.  And they're only going to get better.  When you don't get ratings you say, "they don't mean anything" but when you do get ratings, you say, "hey, look at our ratings!"  I guess it's for sales people that it means the most.  I keep an eye on the ratings like anybody else. 

The radio ratings, it takes awhile for any radio station to establish, but once the fall rolls around and you've got the Seahawks and the Ducks and the Blazers coming in, The Game is going to be a force.

Blazersedge: Can you give us a clear idea from your seat how the team, the radio and the cable deal interact?  For some people I think the assumption is that it's all the same.  That it's all run by Vulcan and controlled by Paul Allen. 

I worked at KXL for 8 years and when I left was when Paul Allen bought it. My approach to any of that, radio, TV or anything else, doesn't change. We do our product, Comcast is a great partner and so is channel 8.  And now we have the same look, we used to have an FSN look, but now we have the same look regardless of whether we're on cable or broadcast. Our format might change, breaks and halftime, but I don't change anything whether I'm on cable or channel 8. 

I don't know from a business aspect the differences between Vulcan's control. I think they've got a lot of irons in the fire and KXL is just one of them.

So on a day to day basis for you, you don't feel this overlooking monolith? KXL is more or less a self-sustaining entity?

It's different for me probably because I worked there and I know everyone so well.  Walking in to do the show the other day I know 90% of the people who are there, I worked there, my picture is in the lobby, that was my home, that's where I started. That's easy for me.  We have courtside on that station but we have it on a lot of stations too.  That's why The Game is so great. Not that there was anything wrong with KXL AM, but I like how it all marries together. 

It's an ideal situation for anybody.  The fact that Paul owns the station makes it that much better.  Having the Ducks and Seahawks - and Paul owns the Seahawks too-they are all going to get the same attention.

As far as the business aspect of it, who has the call, I don't know that kind of stuff.

 Blazersedge: Do you prefer it that way?

Yeah. I could know it if I researched it but it doesn't affect me.  To bridge that topic to another one, I deal with my executive producer and the VP of broadcasting. Then I do things for whatever sales asks me but I don't talk to them on a daily basis. 

We are in a very unique role because I'm never told, and this is the truth, ever since I've been with the Blazers, I have never, ever been told to say anything on the air, or not to say anything. I think people assume there is big brothers over our shoulders all the time, or listening in if we go a certain way, somebody is going to get upset.

Me personally, nobody has said a word to me, on the blog either, what to say, what not to say, I've never had that. I think that surprises people because they think people are listening close to us.  That never happens.

Blazersedge: Have you ever written anything or said anything that resulted in a meeting or a sitdown? You know, "We understand where you were going but we would have preferred you gone a different direction...."

No, but Rice has. 

[laughing]

 I don't even know what it was. I'd like to have some great story there but I don't. 

Blazersedge: It's one thing to say, "We're not going to tell to you what to say," but it's another thing to say, "We're not going to tell you what to say unless you say the wrong thing."

Sure.  I think with any company at times, as long as you're doing a good job you don't hear anything. And that's kind of the way it is.  We don't hear much. Unless something goes sideways.  Which it never really does. I can't think of an instance of when we've said or done something that's gotten somebody in a twist. 

Maybe the only time that's ever happened is if we've given out too much information on something. Because you've got to be careful with that US law on medical records...

Blazersedge: The HIPAA?

Yeah, that's what you've got to be careful with because we are privy to some information that you've got to be careful with at times. 

[Here we pick up the Darius Miles segment, excerpted earlier.]

[That was immediately followed by the Terry Porter segment, also run earlier.]

[And, we're back for the home stretch.]

Blazersedge: You're a father.  Are you going to push your kids towards basketball?  Are you going to keep them away from basketball?

I don't think I'll do either.  Before I had kids, I probably would have thought "they'll play this, they won't play this."

Blazersedge: It seems like a lot has changed.  You talked about sitting courtside for 4 dollars and 50 cents.  Now its hundreds of dollars. There's so much more interest, money, at a young age.  AAU tournaments that Nike puts on throughout the city. A 16 year old kid's mom is getting a recruiting call from the Chairman of FedEx.  Is that something you might be worried about if your kid had a lot of talent.  Because you hear a lot of horror stories.

Let's just say this: when I bring my 3 year old around people, like Joel [Przybilla], we do a lot with the Przybillas, he is just Uncle Joel.  One of the guys who my son was younger when he first came to practice, the guy he loved was Darius [Miles]. Darius would take my son and walk him around. He was so great with him. 

My son knows Brandon. He knows Martell. I've got a picture of Martell holding him at the draft. He loves Steve [Blake].  It's so great to be able to have guys that I want my kid to emulate. He sees them all the time but to him it's no big deal. He sees them on TV and he says, "Hey, Mr. Joel!" 

When he realizes who he is around, it will be a big deal to him. But right now it's kind of cool that it's not a big deal. He just likes them because they are good guys. If his first memories of sports and basketball are of this team, that's ok with me.  I'm proud of that. I would hope he would gravitate toward basketball. Even though my dad was a basketball coach my best sport was baseball.  Honestly, it's whatever makes him happy.

[Tom Penn walks in again, still ready to eat.]

Blazersedge: But this is kind of an ideal team to raise a kid around like you said. Is that representative of the overall structure of the basketball community.  I would consider this a best case scenario, there are teams with much different cultures.  Let's say your son is coming up, he's going through all the hoops, AAU, all of that, would you have any reservations or concerns at all as a father?

Yeah, but I would with anything. If I I've done a decent job, he will make the right decisions. If makes some bad ones, that's ok too.  When it comes to injury, I'm certainly overprotective and bad about that.  I don't have any concerns about that.

If you get to this level of it, with this much money involved, you are always going to get some people around the game, bad guys hanging out, trying to get their piece, but no, as far as any concerns about the profession or the structure.

Blazersedge: Alright last question.  Earlier this summer, Mr. Eggers at the Tribune was interviewed by Mr. Maxey, and he pretty much lambasted blogs. Right along the same lines as Buzz Bissinger and Will Leitch on Costas Now.  You're a blogger as we talked about earlier.  So If someone attacks bloggers, do you take offense?

Not really.  Because the people who attack bloggers are news writers and I understand what they're saying.  They've worked and been educated and have worked for years to hone their craft and to earn the respect and they play by a different set of rules, which is what I think bothers them the most.  Because blogs can throw anything out there.  There's no journalistic ethics with some blogs, I try to have that and that's why I don't try to talk in slang.  I mean you guys don't either but some blogs do. The comments will reflect that, they're hate-filled.  And I don't like that kind of stuff.  Messageboards I don't go to a lot of the messageboards.

I think it's gotten better. The anonymity, the protection on commenters. It was really bad. The internet was running amok.  People were just saying stuff to get a laugh and trying to be the most negative guy.  The more I've gotten into it, the more preconceived notions about people who are on these sites, they're not accurate. 

But I get what those writers are saying. I don't mind it because I understand what they are saying. They're saying, "I play by these rules which I have come to know through my many years of having the access to the players because I work for a reputable newspaper. We've worked to have our access to the team, the relationships we've built and I don't want 18 college kids coming in here saying they've got a blog, throwing out rumors and stuff." That some blogger starts at 10AM and by noon Pritchard is denying it, because that happens. That's just the world we live in.

Blazersedge: But you don't take that personally at all?  I mean bloggers, that's a big tent, you don't think maybe he's talking about you a little bit, even though you work for the team too?

I read ther interview.  And I tried to identify passages that described me. Where would I fall?  It's a little different, I guess, I think, because maybe most bloggers are just firing away.  Well, I'm not just firing away. I work for the team so maybe I'm more of a PR blogger, if that makes any sense. 

Because I do have somebody over me, I do have somebody who cares about what I write. I can't just go out there and have the blog full of buttspeak. I've got to actually answer to somebody.  The definition of a blogger is really someone that doesn't answer to anybody.

Blazersedge: Do you think that's a proper definition of a blogger or do you think that's what the conception or stereotype is?

Didn't blog come from the word "web log?"  That's just somebody relating their experiences and opinions and that's not a bad thing.  I think the reason that writers have a problem with it because maybe they look at it like people are pretending to do what I do.  And when those people get attention or access, it makes them upset.  I get that.  I don't have a problem with that, I mean, whatever. 

If I were just a blogger maybe I would be more sensitive about it. 

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That's all, folks.  Thanks for playing.  What more can you say about Mr. Barrett?  

If you enjoyed this interview, I again encourage you to head over to Mr. Barrett's blog and thank him for taking the time to speak with Blazersedge at such length.

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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