Fans of the North Bay Battalion may have noticed a change in the gameday coverage of the team this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the media landscape has shifted, resulting in no radio broadcasts.
It’s one of many changes experienced by those involved in the media and sports broadcasting industry over the last few years.
Newspapers, radio and television aren’t the only way to find work as a broadcaster or journalist anymore. The internet and social media have allowed for more avenues of communication, including blogs, podcasts and live internet streaming.
In March of 2020, the pandemic cancelled the remainder of the 2019-2021 Ontario Hockey League season, as well as the entirety of the following year.
During that downtime, fans were looking for content and Kortney Kenney and former Battalion Play by Play voice Tom Parisi provided fans of the North Bay Battalion with what they were looking for by starting the Battalion Frontline Podcast; a weekly show that featured interviews with Battalion players and staff.
Kenny had been a rink-side host for broadcasts on YourTV North Bay and on Country600, the former radio voice of the Battalion.
It was through that podcast and with a “non-traditional” media source that they are able to provide coverage of the Battalion home games in what is an ever-changing sports media landscape.
“Back in late February 2021 it looked like we might get a 2020/21 OHL season and I was approached by a friend and former colleague Matt Sookram about taking the Frontline Podcast and turning it into a game-day feature,” says Kenney.
“Something simple like a video that would be released the morning of game day to hype up the game that evening. From there, our talks picked up and we decided to take our broadcasting knowledge from our time on Country 600 CKAT, and do our own version as there was going to be a lack of radio coverage. We brought it to the Battalion and it’s taken a life of its own, but it’s very exciting and I am super excited about what we are doing.”
Live home game coverage can be heard now on the North Bay Battalion YouTube page. Kenny says the Battalion was excited at the prospects of having an alternative source for coverage.
“We wouldn’t be here without the cooperation of the team,” says Kenney.
“From Owner Scott Abbott, to President Mike Griffin, to General Manager Adam Dennis, everyone showed an interest in this idea and what it could be, and of course Director of Hockey Administration Nick Morin has gone above and beyond to help make this thing happen.”
Kenny says there were some challenges to getting set up.
“There are plenty of obstacles to clear when you’re building a broadcast from the ground up. Firstly, how are we going to broadcast? Once we decided on YouTube, it became what kind of equipment will we need?” says Kenney.
“Thankfully, Ben Long came aboard and he has a lot of the equipment already from running an audio business.”
Long says, “I've been playing and loving hockey since I was old enough to hold a stick, and for the last 20 years I've been doing different types of audio work and the last five years I've been officially in IT positions. So knowing Kortney has been doing Battalion stuff I asked if he needed a tech guy for anything and it just all fell together.”
He adds, “The biggest technical challenge has been that as it's a new broadcast. Having equipment set up for everything we need has been unique. For the internet aspect specifically, there haven't been any huge challenges but there are so many possibilities of options that we can pursue. It will be very exciting to roll out ideas as we get our broadcast more established and build an audience and be able to provide more for them such as video content during the intermissions.”
Tech aside, there also needs to be on-air personnel to deliver the game to that audience.
Long time North Bay radio voice Bob Coles is one of those voices on the Frontline Gameday Broadcast.
“I have been doing games for several years on the radio and have always had a great relationship with the team so this was an easy decision,” says Coles.
Derek Lindeman was also on board to join in with the new crew. “In the past, I have helped out with both television and radio Battalion broadcast,” says Lindeman.
“Through those broadcasts, I developed a relationship with Kortney, Bob and Matt. I would like to think that in the broadcasts that I showed some professionalism, knowledge of the game, ability to work well with the other individuals involved, and was a reliable asset to the broadcast.”
So far, broadcasting a game on YouTube has been similar to listening to a game on the radio.
“Once the game starts there’s no real change and I have no real technical duties on the broadcast,” says Coles.
“Unlike radio, we have an onsite producer. On radio, we had to set up equipment ourselves.”
“The biggest difference that I feel is that we are building a new platform that fans are not familiar with,” says Lindeman.
“Both television and radio are common avenues for the people to catch games on and have had an already built-in audience. Internet streaming is still fairly new and I think that there is so much that can be done through this platform and that even we as commentators, hosts, and production have not figured out. From a host and commentator, I feel the big difference is that we are both trying to do the regular hockey broadcast and sell our product through excellent, professional content.”
Kenny says the pandemic forced people to start thinking outside the box about the future of sports broadcasting.
“In the media business, it has already resulted in cutbacks and layoffs for many people. A lot of my former colleagues have become unemployed because of this. The more you take away from things, the more likely you are to get a watered-down product, but yet you are still expected to deliver the same results,” he says.
“We have seen that with how Sportsnet treated the Blue Jays radio broadcast being simulcast. Of course, now with things like podcasting and streaming, a lot of former broadcasters have moved away from the more traditional means of getting their product out there. That’s why having our own broadcast and doing things differently, I am more optimistic and excited in the future of sports broadcasting, at least locally than I have been in a long time.”
Coles echoes that final statement.
“As for COVID, it has changed a lot of things, but we should be grateful there’s games. Moving forward, ZOOM is here to stay.”
Lindeman says there are many benefits for both the fans and the team when you have a broadcast dedicated to a local hockey team.
“The players and team have an interactive platform to get involved with the community and their fans. The interviews with the players and staff through both the podcast and broadcast are more in-depth than the general hockey questions,” he says.
“As a listener of the podcast from day one I really enjoyed the candid questions and answers from both the staff and players with the hosts. I really enjoyed hearing the players talk about past hockey experiences, what they have enjoyed about the city, and a deeper look inside of the person and not just the on-ice player. To put it in terms I think a hometown broadcast allows the fans to know about the team they avidly follow and what is going on with the past, present and future.”
Coles says the player interviews have changed a lot since he first started covering Major Junior Hockey in North Bay in the mid-1990s.
“There’s a big difference today in terms of information. Players are much better in interviews. And with the internet, there’s much more information. The challenge is figuring out what you should use. Fans have much more access to players, coaches, and media and can be mean-spirited. We must always remember these players are kids.”
And a large section of the fan base is kids as well who are devoted to cheering on their Troops. Some of them may be thinking that they too would like to someday be involved with the team just as Kenny did when the Battalion first arrived in North Bay.
“It’s incredibly special. When the Troops came to town, I was a fan just like everyone else. I then began to dip my toes in the water by volunteering behind the scenes on their broadcast while in college for broadcasting. If you would have come to me back then and told me we would be running a broadcast and hosting a podcast, I never would have believed you,” he says.
“It’s incredibly special to have this relationship. I am still a huge fan of the team and this feels like a dream come true. Especially now with what Dennis and Oulahen are doing with the team, it’s an exciting time to follow the Troops.”
It’s also exciting to be back inside Memorial Gardens with fans in attendance for these games. Every single game I have ever called has been a personal privilege and it's extremely rewarding to be welcomed back by this fan base. We’ve tremendously enjoyed this new look broadcast and we love the ability we have to interact with the fans during the game and we hope they will continue to tune in over the course of this season and beyond.
If you have a story for the Jobs of the Future series, send Matt an email at [email protected]