Chad Wingert’s interview with Eddie Fury of Thumb Tailgater Sports
• What made you decide to start up Thumb Tailgaters and when was it’s first Internet broadcast. Kind of give me the History behind TTS.
I was hired full time in May of 2005 at WLEW / Thumb Broadcasting. The Fall 0f 2005, I was basically “thrown to the wolves” and to take over as board op the high school sports games. I already had some experience directing and producing shows at my prior employment at radio stations in the Lapeer / Flint market at WRXF Radio X Rock 103.1 FM, and on the sister AM 1530 WLSP radio stations. I had done every type of shift, show & sports casts that came through there. (that is what the call letters were back in 2001). The stations got bought up by the Regent Communications Corp. I decided not to pursue a job with them nor was there any offered, after the mass firings that took place. That is just part of the business.
Anyways some years later I applied at WLEW and was offered a full time spot there. The prior medium market experience helped and the transition was easy as I feared being away from the “mic” would hurt. It didn‘t – it fired me up! It is like learning to ride a bike, you never forget how.
Now back to the beginning – 2005; Rick Glaza was the play by play man, we clicked right away on the first football game. He told later that he was so happy to have someone who had the enthusiasm and the passion to turn the “ship” around at WLEW sports. The only bad part is being stuck in the studio and not see the games, but it still was a joy to really find my “calling” on what I wanted to do on radio. Some great moments happened for us with thumb area teams – of course USA going to state for football, Deckerville was always in the mix for football playoffs, Harbor Beach going to the semi-finals, USA basketball, and of course the great back to back runs UBLY football had. Many great moments that are too many to recall for the radio side. The major one that I was involved with was the State Football Finals in 2005 for USA. They lost but had a chance 28 – 14. This years Ubly football run was great for us on the Internet.
After my first year of football and finally into the basketball playoffs, Rick Glaza had brought up the idea of having local sports writer Paul Adams of the Huron Daily Tribune to come in and help me spice up the pre-game shows for the basketball playoffs. We hit it off right away! The next week Chris Ogryski – Huron County Press was brought in and thus the “Thumb Tailgaters” pre-game show was born. We had so much fun with the pregame shows that it became a staple from 2006 up to late 2008 and also became good friends. The name “Thumb Tailgaters pre-game show” began in the fall sports season of 2006. I then resigned from WLEW in the summer of 2008, my last day was the second or third game of football season. That was a hard show to do. I resigned due to a schedule conflict that would not be worked out.
I kind of lingered around for awhile helping out Rick Glaza as a “sideline” reporter and dedicating myself to his blog updating football and basketball scores. The boys Paul & Chris were great guys – they stayed in contact with me, we even did a couple of podcast shows together that year. That’s when they brought up that the time was right for me to think about starting my own blog / Internet sports network.
The idea swirled more and more in my head. It was a major risk (financially to!).
Later that year in basketball season of 2008 / 2009, WLEW had asked me to come back to do some play by play for basketball. I wanted to learn and got the opportunity to do so, so i took the job. Then later on in early 2009 of February I was asked to work the all day Sunday shift which is where I am at now.
The basketball season was over and so came the spring sports season, and then summer of 2009. I kept asking Rick Glaza, Paul & Chris about what I should do – and if the time was right to start “Thumb Tailgater Sports”. We had a pretty good following still after I left the station. Then my wife “THE BOSS”, gave me the “thumbs up” to give it a try! Thumb Tailgater Sports was officially born on the Internet with the blog on Thursday, August 20, 2009.
* I already had all the equipment that was needed as I also work for a Disc Jockey service (Above & Beyond Tuxedos – Deckerville / DJ Kurt Lewis). I had experience from playing in a band, running sound for musicians. Of course the big experience is producing and presenting a show in a professional manner learned from radio broadcasting over my 15 years in the field.
*I did a test run at a scrimmage at Deckerville high school. Then I had an opportunity to do a real game (but only another test run) at North Huron where they had a Thursday game hosting Cardinal Mooney. That game was also special as Chris & Paul came out to help me out with test run as color guys. Plus we were the “Original Thumb Tailgaters”. If it wasn‘t for Rick, Paul & Chris – I wouldn‘t be doing this. They really kept pushing to do Internet streaming.
I had some guys I had worked with listen -I was allowed only 5 listeners for the test run. The results were astounding sound quality wise. They all gave it a seal of approval.
Of course at the time my play by play skills was lacking. And there was some “kinks” and I had a “rocky start” that had to be worked out with our streaming hosts over the year. But at this point and by the middle of football season – Everything was eventually worked out – and I was confident enough to go out and start get some advertisers on the air.
My first official live webcast to the masses was on the next night on Friday, August 28th – Deckerville vs Sterling Heights Christian Parkway.
My whole deal about doing these Internet Audio Stream Webcasts was the sound quality & presentation. I want to get to the point where it sounded like an ESPN college broadcast.
• Tell me about your staff, their background, your passion for doing this…….You, Adam….etc.
Thumb Tailgater Sports was basically a solo operation in the beginning. Paul & Chris would help out when they could if they were at the game I was at. The first game I had a good friend (Jesse Estrada) from Deckerville help me out. He also taught me a lot more about the football game on the field. The second game I did solo – all by myself for the Vassar vs Bad Axe game. The third game was Marlette vs Ubly I did that game solo in the first half, Chris Ogryski helped me in the 2nd half. That was also the week that “Orginal Thumb Tailgaters Pre-Game Show”, was brought back – this time on the Internet with our weekly podcasts, where portions would be included on the live game day pre-game show. Rick Glaza would also became part of the show promoting his game of the week on WLEW. By this time – a thumb area sports network started out – with the Huron Daily Tribune, Huron County Press, Tuscola County Advertiser, WLEW & WIDL, all trading scores along with the fans of the thumb area chiming in also.
That week also, I ran into an old friend at a wedding I was disc jockeying at. He was great with computers and had a passion for sports. Adam Filkins became a member of Thumb Tailgater Sports and became the official color commentator. His sound board op skills along with his computer & website Internet experience and football knowledge was a huge asset for Thumb Tailgater. He has own business “Insource Technological Services” (http://www.goinsource.com/) and he also teaches at Baker College in Bad Axe. His first game was in Week 4 at the North Huron vs Dryden football game. I had wondered if we would “click, mesh & mold” together. Right off the bat – we did! That was another special moment as Paul Adams was there to – and Adam got to meet him. We all had a good webcast together that night.
Week 5 had Adam setting up a website to compliment the blog that is updated daily / weekly with daily scores and news updates. That was huge boost to gain listeners – In the basketball season we added Facebook and the fans have been great! That has helped even more. Having Adam Filkins on board to help guide me, give me some sound advice, has been a blessing to me. We continued through the season having some great moments & games and fun all the way. FUN & PASSION for high school sports is what drives me.
By the first round of the football playoffs – we realized we needed an extra set of eyes and a stat guy. Mark “Mad Dog” Dimon was asked to join the crew. He was a pretty good athlete in his day and loves sports just as much as Adam & I do. Mark’s strengths are his extreme knowledge of football & wrestling. He has also dabbled in the game of baseball & basketball. When Adam had some schedule conflicts we added a fourth member of the team. Mike Smith became part of the crew at the semi-finals of the Ubly Football game. He has great experience playing the game of football. At this point that is the core group of Thumb Tailgater Sports. Paul Adams, Rick Glaza & Jason Particka also help out when they are available and have done a few games already late in the basketball season.
My passion is about presentation and sound quality. I want to put the best entertaining games possible on the Internet. These games, and kids I think get lost in the regular broadcasts that radio covers. They almost treat it too much like a business. Don’t get me wrong – it is a business. But these schools provide the entertainment and get nothing out of it. I hope to – when cash starts coming in, start a scholarship fund and to also give a portion of the money that does come in back to the schools.
To think that I almost thought I would not last past week 5 for football season…and here I am now. Knocking on the door of spring sports! We made all the way through boys & girls basketball season.
• How has the response been to your website/broadcasts? I believe you once mentioned a soldier listening in Iraq, give me an instance like that or talk more about that letter.
The response has been great since week one. Football season is by far the most popular sport. We had hundreds of live listeners and almost cracked 1,000 late in the football season. The cool thing about Thumb Tailgater Sports is that after the live webcast the games are automatically archived and can be listened to again! We almost double our live listenership with the return visits! We have had listeners from across the nation and around the world. We have had several military soldiers somewhere in Iraq listening. That means a lot to me being a former U.S. Marine. Another listener was somewhere on a Navy ship I suspect off the coast of Africa was the most recent. Most of the listeners are from the Michigan area – and many more are former residents of the thumb area, parents, relatives & grandparents listening. And just basic fanatics of thumb area sports. Also during the playoffs we have gotten many emails from the opposing teams fans thanking us for the coverage. The Hudson & Petersburgh–Summerfield folks were very appreciative of the fair coverage we did during the football season. That is a key that I try to do – DON’T BE A HOMER!! Fans of basketball were great. Not many radio stations cover girls all that much – we decided to at least do one game a week dedicated to girls after we had skipped a couple weeks. I felt it was the right & fair thing to do. And it worked out as we saw some of the most competitive games this year covering Port Hope, Sandusky, Brown City, Reese, Lakers, Harbor Beach, Deckerville girls games. There are many more…
I had gotten handshakes, hugs even from thumb area coaches as a show of thanks and appreciation for doing the games on the internet as they had relatives living out of state. It was pure joy for them – that right there – is all that is what we are all about. Giving a piece of home for those who moved away no matter who or where they are.
Basketball season started off weak – but i think the fans thought we were done after football season. We decided to keep the ball rolling and keep going. By the end of December the listeners really picked up!
• To kind of add to that, how has the journey been so far? Starting up a website, getting out the word, advertising…..and now broadcasting two basketball games in one night. What has it been like?
The journey has been an enjoyable one. From parents, coaches and players all being supportive and elated that we are doing this and sticking to it. The unbias coverage that we try to make sure we do – there is always someone on the crew to keep each other in check on that aspect. Sure there have been tense moments, but those were minor instances.
The competition which is radio – is a long hard road to battle with. But we continue win new fans over with what we provide. We are a different medium that has finally been tapped into in the Thumb Area. What Thumb Tailgater Sports has been able to achieve at this point is beyond what I hoped for. I really got to iterate that the Thumb Tailgater Sports Crew have worked their tails off and sacrificed their time for me over and over. The crew I have are strong believers in Thumb Tailgater Sports and I have just been blessed to have them. Adam Filkins, Mark “Mad Dog” Dimon & Mike Smith. Add Paul Adams to that list to. He has helped me at every curve and turn when I needed his help and when he was able to. Same thing for Rick Glaza & Jason Particka.
The start up of the blog and website are a given in this – we are powered by the internet. So it is a must and really wasn‘t that hard to put together as it was a natural part of Thumb Tailgater Sports. You just got to have the right people to work and handle that area. And adding Facebook has made it even more reachable and able to spread the word out. A Myspace page is about to go up this week to for Thumb Tailgater Sports. The newspaper print is also a valuable asset to us for show prep and sharing information with people are really just pure fans of high school sports. Newspapers are the backbone to radio, television & Internet news & sports coverage. We will start to advertise in the news print also to reach those who still “fear” the Internet. I hope to open the door for those fans.
The big move to do a double header coverage of games also has opened a huge door for us. We tried it and it worked a couple of times for basketball. We didn‘t do it every week as that consumes resources and a lot of time & dedication, but we tested the waters on that and it will be fully instilled come football season. That is a big but exciting step for Thumb Tailgater. We are ready to send two different webcasters at two games on the same night for the 2010 football season.
Extending the coverage of thumb area sports is a huge goal I hope that can be worked out with all the live audio media. Spread the coverage out. It worked with the great communication I had with WIDL 92.1 FM & WLEW Cruise 102.1FM during the football season. Later of course when teams dwindle to one team left in the playoffs it still works out as we are the different medium for the fans outside of the listening area. But I still think we are better sound quality wise by far! We still have a long road to go to get the word out about Thumb Tailgater Sports, and we are still learning from our mistakes and knowing what we need to improve. Another one of mymotto’s – always room for improvement and always strive to be better and learn more about the game and how we cover them. We know we are ready to really go out have businesses advertise on our broadcasts – we are confident at this point that we are a triple value for a business to advertise with us. They have a audiocommercial on the live game, a Internet web presence with an graphic link to their website, and the replays that our listeners always end up coming back to listen to. And our rates are very cheap compared to radio advertising. We go the extra mile for our sponsors.
• Football and basketball seemed to be easy choices for broadcasts, but now you are beginning to branch out. What other sports have you done and what made you decide to keep this going into the 2010 spring season?
Thumb Tailgater Sports at first was just going to do football – but that changed by the semifinals of the football season. The fans were wanting more from us. So we continued starting with girls basketball – first game was Cros–Lex @ Sandusky, and of course boys sports was the focus. But we decided that girls had to be part of the equation. Still can’t we made it through that long grueling basketball season! Some other things we did was I covered a Cros–Lex signing letter of intent of two students heading to MSU & North wood. Basically football and basketball has taken up the majority of the time. We also tried a “Weekly live sports show” that is on hiatus at this point. But we hope to bring it back as it is being reworked presentation wise. Next year during the fall season we have been asked to cover girls volleyball. That will all depend if businesses will advertise that sport.
Thumb Tailgater Sports is going to break down the walls with live baseball & softball coverage! This time with video or audio! We provide both as some people may not have the capability to see the video but still able to listen to audio. This had always been the plan since the inception. We had times when we were going to do video for football & basketball – but at the last minute some coaches changed their minds about that as they worried about their plays & schemes being widely available – I understand that and respect their decision on that. I would of felt the same way myself. We would be doing the job of another school scouting wise. But the spring sports baseball / softball season is something I truly am exicited about. That sport is more of individual skill wise and the only thing to worry about is not to get the coaches or a catches signals with the type of hit or pitch on video. There is also thoughts of coverage at least one track tournament to. Don’t know which one or how to handle that but there is talk of that in the works.
• What has been a few of the highlights of your time with TTS?
The high lights have been some of the games we have covered and how entertaining they have been. Thankfully – we have had 90% of great exciting games. 10% of them have been stinkers – such as blowouts. But that is where being a broadcaster comes in – to make it still sound fun. Highlights include the playoffs for football &basketball. The Millington football game against Carrollton was a good one, regular season game 1 of Deckerville defeating parkway christian was of course the big debut of Thumb Tailgater Sports. The Reese @ Vassar regular season football game was a classic!! The Bay City All Saints welcoming us into their school to cover a football game and many basketball games. That is a team that never got the attention from radio and they have been very thankful for the coverage. Our focus by the way is coverage of the GTC & NCTL teams – ALL Teams! There are some that we just couldn‘t get to – but i feel by next year those teams will be covered once we get the 2nd crew up and running full time. Of course again the playoff runs of the area teams in football, Reese, Ubly, Millington (because that was our only option at the time).
Basketball season we had many highlights – North Huron Boys upsetting Ubly. Realizing early on in our first game of girls basketball season that the Sandusky girls was for REAL! The USA & Reese game was a thriller if you remember! Also the last time Paul Adams & I saw Chris Ogryski, the last time the original thumb tailgaters were together. Girls games was the Sandusky games against Brown City & Reese. Covering the last second 3 point winner by Kayla Gust for the Port Hope @ North Huron girls game. The Lakers provided us some great games. The classic Ubly vs Harbor Beach game and also was the Chris Ogryski tribute. Another thing I was proud of was we covered league championship deciders – CPS @ Memphis that put the Tigers in postiton as NCTL South champs; the Reese vs Lady Lakers GTW championship game; The Greater Thumb West showdowns late in the season with the All Saints & ending the boys season with the GTW championship game between Vassar & Reese was awesome! And of course the playoffs! Girls Districts with Brown City upsetting Sandusky for the title. The girls class d regional championship game with Port Hope & Deckerville. We later covered the quarterfinal game with Deckerville girls who lost to eventual state champs Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes. The Class D districts where Peck upset CPS & Deckerville for the championship and also set off the big preview of the NCTL South rivalry for next year! Of course sticking to that Class D regional and covering the classic match up with All Saints & North Huron. And continuing the coverage of the All Saints who represent the GTC. (All Saints may end up in semi-finals)
• What does the future hold for TTS?
The future is to continue to get better and improve with sound quality and with our talent. And the double coverage we have in store for next year during football. This year though is not done. The future is video! Our own Thumb Area Internet TV network with Thumb Tailgater Sports taking the lead and to continue to break barriers. Also we touched the Blue Water Area Conference with two basketball games. We want to include that competitive league in our coverage come football season. We will have coverage of the GTC, NCTL & BWAC teams come football season and maybe this spring season.
• And lastly, if people would like to contact you or advertise with you, whats the best way to contact you?
YES! We need advertisers! All the “pat on the backs” are great but this venture has cost me a lot of money – and we need to start making that up. We have been able to get some advertisers who believe and love what we do and we are thankful for them for sticking with us. But we do need more. We wanted to make sure we had the “product” up and running right and at this point I believe we do and are ready to go full steam ahead and be a viable option for local businesses to get involved. They can call and leave a message on our Skype Internet phone line at 810-476-4680, or email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit the blog or website and our Facebook page and soon to be Myspace page!