Scott Anez is a really lucky guy. He has managed to stay on the air in the same town with the same company for nearly three decades. He was one of the most well known voices in the Orlando sports scene long before his show Anez Says helped launch the new ESPN 580 on WDBO-AM back in 2012.
I first met Scott around that time through a mutual friend, who introduced him to me as “one of the good ones.” That’s saying a lot, because that friend of mine doesn’t like anyone. It’s easy to see why Orlando sports fans and co-workers like Scott. No one knows more about the Magic, than the man that has served as the team’s pre and postgame host for the last 17 years. He has a passion for the University of Central Florida, and fans trust him because they see themselves in him. He wants the local teams to succeed, but isn’t afraid to say when things aren’t going well.
I conducted this interview with Scott during the week when Donald Trump called out NFL players for protesting at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. It also happened to be recorded just after Florida snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Kentucky. Those two things will come up multiple times during our conversation.
DR: I know you grew up in Orlando, but let’s start from the time that you started covering sports professionally. How have you seen Orlando change as a sports market in that time?
SA: Orlando has changed as a market period. I moved here 37 years ago as a kid and at that time, Orlando was an apathetic, quiet, one-horse, Southern outpost. I think the biggest Orlando sporting event at that time was the UCF/Rollins basketball game twice a year. That’s all we got.
I think the biggest sport back then was certainly college football. We’re a Florida/FSU kind of town. Then along comes Pat Williams in the mid-to-late 80s and said this was a major league sports town. I don’t think there is anyone in history at that time that could have made Orlando believe that it could be a major league town, and nothing has been the same since.
DR: I want to talk more about the Magic in a second, because I see some similarities between them and the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh (where I live). The difference being the Canes have had like two really good years, where the Magic tend to go on these runs and when they are good they sustain it for three or four years in a row. So the guy that has retired to Orlando from the Northeast or moved there to start a business is still loyal to his teams, but they have something exciting to latch on to, so how do you prioritize that guy’s loyalty to his teams when you’re putting together a local show in Orlando?
SA: You must be sitting in on our afternoon meetings, because this is a question that we struggle with everyday. I mentioned this was a Gators and Seminoles town, and back in the day, you’d come in on Monday, open up the phones and you could talk Gators and Seminoles for three hours.
Orlando is a tough sports radio town now, because of what you just said: everyone is from somewhere else and they bring their own allegiances here. We have a lot of Northeasterners here. There are a lot of transplanted Midwesterners here. So you combine that with the fans that have been here for years and it can be hard to figure out the combined allegiances.
So what we try to do is focus on the hot button issues of the day. Like yesterday, everyone is talking about the National Anthem controversy. Even though it can be a controversial topic and a difficult thing to do on sports radio, we have to sometimes try to do a national show on a local level, so we have to dip our toes into those waters. That can be frustrating at times because the market is always like a moving target, but I can assure you there is never a dull day trying to do sports radio in Orlando. That is for sure.
DR: Interesting, but it also has to be a little frustrating, because in the old Orlando, yesterday (September 25th) should have been the kind of day you could crack the mic and say “what the hell is Jim McElwain doing?” and you’ve got yourself a three hour show.
SA: [laughing] Exactly. Those kind of days are really frustrating because yesterday was a great sports day. You had some great NFL games. You have the Gators pulling out that win at Kentucky but they still have so many problems with their offense. You’ve got FSU at 0-2 for the first time since 1989. Heck, you’ve even got UCF pulling off a dominant victory at Maryland, and yet our PD comes into our afternoon meeting and tells us that our TV partner is coming over to grab sound from callers on the National Anthem protests and that is what we’re going to have to do for three hours.
So can that be frustrating? I guess so. Sometimes it feels like I am back in college everyday and I am taking a final exam and I have no idea what is going to be on the exam every single day.
DR: I’m glad you brought up your PD, because it leads into my next question. This isn’t me claiming to know what happens at ESPN 580 in Orlando. I have just talked to a lot of guys in your situation. They are the only local show in a prime daypart on their station, and they all talk about it as one extreme or the other. They either feel like the station as a whole is forgotten about or they feel like they have all the support they could ask for because they are their PD’s only concern. Are you one of those or do you fall somewhere in the middle?
SA: Oh, I get what I need. Cox Media Group is a great company to work for, and even though they’re dipping their toe into these waters for the first time with a sports station, I have worked for Cox for 28 or 29 years and I have always been supported. Sports radio is never going to be high on the company’s totem pole, but I have terrific support and quite frankly, they’ve kinda let us have free reign.
I went up to Bristol a few weeks ago for a sports talk bootcamp and they taught us two things. First, always be who you are because listeners can spot a phony, and also if you’re not talking NFL, you’re losing. Cox Media’s thing is that you better be talking on air about what people are talking about, so you see, they are on the same track. Yesterday that was the protests and talking about it is a bridge for fringe sports fans to find the show.
DR: Do you like talking about stuff like that? The National Anthem protests and topics like the North Carolina bathroom bill that had the NCAA and the NBA pulling events out of the state, those things mix it up and make sports radio fun and interesting in my opinion. Do you feel the same or do you have #StickToSports guy in the back of your head?
SA: I come from a news background. I wouldn’t say topics like that, for me, are easy by any means, but they’re kinda right in my wheelhouse. Even though one slip of the tongue can have protesters showing up at your radio station, that kind of adrenaline drives me. Now, I certainly take copious notes before that show starts, so I’m not talking off the cuff the whole time. Shows like that are difficult to do and that’s what really drives me.
We just had Hurricane Irma come through Central Florida, and on ESPN 580 we shunned our local programming for a week and did nothing but talk Irma day after day after day. I love sports, but I think I love broadcasting even more, and if you can have an impact on someone day to day, that is success to me. So talking about those big issues that invite everyone to listen but don’t drive off the P1s is fun for me and that is how you get the biggest piece of the pie, at least in Orlando.
DR: I’m going to use LeBatard as an example because he is national, but I’m sure it happens a lot at the local level too. He’s a guy that has never been afraid to delve into sports’ big social issues but he also isn’t afraid to acknowledge the internet theory that it was Florida football coach Jim McElwain in that photo with a shark. It’s absurd to think that may have been the case, but it is even more absurd that there are people that actually thought it might be possible. It seems like sports radio as a format is more willing to have fun and go to interesting and maybe even uncomfortable places more often than it used to.
SA: Sure. If you want sports, LeBatard’s show may be the worst place to go to for that, but look, I think he is a great journalist. He’s a great writer. Above all, what you hear on the radio is that he is a great entertainer. So do you risk running off those P1s when you do that and risk that guy calling to tell you to stick to sports or stay in your lane? Yeah, but we know our format and that includes the listeners. If you can get those casual fans to stick with you with a topic like protesting or something more frivolous, you’ll bring those P1s along.
DR: You talked about the week leading up to Hurricane Irma abandoning sports talk to focus on hurricane preparedness. Certainly weather like that is nothing new for you guys. Tell me about your philosophy as a broadcaster the day after that hurricane comes through.
SA: We actually slept at the radio station. I stayed there a couple of nights. With Cox, when an event happens like this in your community, you’re expected to be there. I grew up here. I raised a family here. I am here for the community. So, when that community is in need, that drives your adrenaline.
The afternoon before the hurricane I was on the air for about six hours, then as the hurricane was moving through, I was on all of our six stations from about 9 o’clock until 3 the next morning just talking to listeners. It was amazing. People called in and what we wanted to do was stay connected with the Central Florida community. A lot of people had power out so for some we were the only game in town, but what we learned is no matter how much we warned and begged beforehand, so many people still don’t have battery powered radios in their house.
It was an amazing night talking to people who had just seen trees fall on their houses. I talked to a woman that was talking to me from her couch, because it was the only way to stay dry in her flooded house. Another man called when a tool shed had blown through his front window.
I love sports, but first I am a Central Floridian. I am a part of this community. I love this community and for me what it is all about is supporting and preparing people and afterwards you have to be positive and let people know we are going to get through it – especially the people that are alone. It was a really unforgettable night.
DR: Okay, so now it’s time to make you uncomfortable a little bit and mess with your money. What is your motto when it comes to covering the Orlando Magic? You kinda have to walk that tightrope of cheerleader vs. truth-teller.
SA: Absolutely. It can definitely be a balancing act, but I would hope that I have built up enough in the bank that Magic fans will tell you that I tell it like it is. I will say that in all the years of covering the organization or now working for the organization, they have never once told me to lighten up on them or come to me and said ‘you need to spin this this way.’ I respect the heck out of them for that. I have been covering them for 29 years and have been working for the organization since 2000, and I think the Magic know that if they ever came to me and told me what to say it would come through on the air. And it helps them to keep my credibility intact. It can definitely be a balancing act, but the Magic make it very very easy to do my job.
DR: Right after the NBA season ended, Dan Patrick said he talked to a number of different people around the league and there is a consensus that the Magic are the team furthest away from being competitive. Tell me why he is wrong.
SA: (Laughing) I don’t know if I can argue with that. There may be a couple of teams that might be behind us, but that is a really good point. I think a lot of that goes back to the last five year under a general manager that came in with what looked like a sound plan. Let’s go ahead and dump Dwight Howard if he doesn’t want to be here and let’s try to get a lot of pieces for him and then we’ll rebuild through the draft.
Well, that’s easier said than done when you’re always a pick or two after the best players in the draft are gone. You have to make your own luck as well and Rob Hannigan never made his own luck here in Orlando. So now we restart rebuild 2.0 with a couple of guys that have great experience in the league with our new GM and president of basketball operations. It’s gonna take time though to dig out of where this team is.
Dan Patrick is probably right. Even Philadelphia looks like they are moving forward. Hmmm…maybe Brooklyn. There are some people excited about Brooklyn’s future I’m not sure why, but it is a close argument.