Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ben Finfer

Ben Finfer is the technical producer of the Danny Mac Show on the Score, WSCR-AM 670. He recently joined the show after leaving ESPN AM 1000.

Rick: I know Dan McNeil has always been a big supporter of your work. When I interviewed him at ESPN six years ago, he referred to you as the unsung hero of the show (Mac, Jurko & Harry). Is he the one that lured you to join him on the Score?

Ben: First of all it was nice of Mac to say that six years ago. (Photo: Ben at work at ESPN/6 years ago.) But I think a baboon could have produced that show and it still would have been good. Although I'm not sure a baboon would have been able to stand the smell. Anyway, Mac was obviously a big part of my move. As was Mitch Rosen, our program director. But it wasn't just them. I was ready for a change of scenery after almost nine years at ESPN. Luckily I had an opportunity to make the move because I had fooled Mac into thinking I was good at my job. But I might have left even if the Score didn't come calling. In fact before they called I had checked job postings and there was a weekend host position available in Billings, Montana. I'm always looking for ways to show off my knowledge of the Northern Pacific Hockey League. For instance, did you know there is a Northern Pacific Hockey League?

Rick: How has the reunion gone?

Ben: It's gone well I think. It's not like Mac (photo) and I hadn't talked since he left ESPN. It also helped that there was already an established show in place with quality producers. Jay Zawaski and Nick Shepkowski make up the best crew I've worked with and all I had to do was not screw anything up. In fact, everyone at the Score has made it easy for me. I felt pretty useless early on as I adjusted. There was a ton of stuff I needed to learn that I took for granted at ESPN. I didn't even know where the vending machine was. By the way, in case you're wondering the vending machines at the Score are way better than ESPN's.

Rick: You bring a lot to the table as a producer. I see you in the tradition of the great personality show technical producers like John Swanson (Eric & Kathy) and Vince Argento (Landecker & Brandmeier). You're not just a blade man, you take it to the next level; voicing, singing, conceptualizing audio packages and themes. Will you be performing similar duties at the Score?

Ben: Thanks for the compliment. It's flattering to be put in the same category as those guys. In fact I've had Swanson in a few of my personality show technical producer fantasy leagues. Yeah, my duties at the Score are pretty much the same as they were at ESPN. And while I'd love to take sole credit for "taking it to the next level", a lot of my work is a result of collaboration among show members. I often rely on co-workers to help me with an idea. Then subsequently use Inception to make them think it was my idea in the first place. That's how we do it in radio.

Rick: I don't think people appreciate the amount of work that goes into putting a show together behind the scenes. Take me through a typical work day, and explain how the various different people on the show divide the labor.

Ben: A typical work day starts with me waking up at about 4:30 a.m. and hating my life. That lasts until about 5:30. Once I get into the studios I begin production on the day's library of audio. That includes a show open, game highlights, player and coach sound bytes, etc. Both hosts give a lot of suggestions about what they'd like to hear. We get emails full of weird stuff they heard on t.v. or ridiculous comments made by Lovie Smith or whatever. Zawaski is busier than I am. He's the executive producer and books all the guests for the show, plus helps with audio production. He mostly has to lock down guests the day prior because what sane person is awake that early in the morning otherwise? Shepkowski does a lot of editing and production as well. Plus he's our show researcher. If you hear Mac doing a list of the Atlanta Falcons who have made a Pro Bowl, it's because Shep looked it up. He could probably find Jimmy Hoffa's body using Google.

At around 7:30 Spiegs and Mac roll in. We do a show meeting to plan out the day's hilarity and high quality sports conversation. These meetings usually include the all-important task of sending our intern out for coffee. Once the show starts things actually slow down a bit. Mac and Spiegel work their magic, Zawaski screens callers and guides the show, I run the board, and Shep is our runner to catch anything that falls through the cracks. Somehow we make it through four hours. We wrap around 1:15, followed by a post show meeting to talk about how great we were. And then by 2:00 I'm back to hating my life.

Rick: It must have been a little difficult leaving ESPN after all this time. You still obviously have a lot of friends there. How did they take it when you told them you were leaving?

Ben: I actually haven't told them yet. They think I'm just on a long vacation. The people there were the only difficult part of leaving. But I'll maintain friendships with a lot of them no matter where I work. And everyone seemed genuinely happy for me. Believe it or not it was something I worried about. Harry Teinowitz (photo) is one of my favorite people in the business and a friend outside of it. So I was glad that he was supportive. The same with Carmen, Jurko and Danny Zederman, who I produced the show with. I received a lot of congratulatory calls and emails from people there. The generosity coming from ESPN was really nice. And that included my former bosses...John Cravens, Justin Craig and Adam Delevitt. Some real good people work at that place. By the way I also got a text from Brett Favre, let's just say he appeared to be very excited for me.

Rick: What are some of your favorite memories from your years at ESPN?

Ben: Winning the Golden Tee tournament was a personal high for me. People are still talking about my hook shot around the mountain on the 14th hole at Alpine Run. After that my favorite memories are of just hanging out in the office and laughing. There's real good camaraderie there. I mean if you put that many guys together for an extended period a lot of FCC-unfriendly stuff is seen, heard and forwarded. It's the kind of stuff that would have made us all executives with the Tribune Company. Kidding of course. It wasn't close to being that bad.

Rick: You were part of the afternoon saloon when Danny was there, and for quite awhile after Danny left. How were each of those experiences different? What was it like in the weeks and months after Carmen DeFalco replaced him?

Ben: Honestly it was a pretty seamless transition from Mac to Carm. We weren't going to just stop doing radio because he was gone. There were still plenty of crappy Chicago sports teams to be discussed. They have different styles obviously. Several people told me Mac was better, several thought Carmen (photo) was better. But that was for everyone else to decide for themselves. Things around the office didn't change all that much. That probably sounds a little cold considering Mac had been there more than seven years. I just think it's the reality of the business. On Friday he was there, the following Monday he wasn't. It was all made a lot easier by the fact that Carmen wasn't new. He had been at the station a long time and had filled in for Mac quite a bit. Which was nice because I didn't feel like kissing up to someone new. And in the end it's all about me, right?

Rick: There's no question there were some tense times at ESPN. There must have been a half dozen suspensions of various different colleagues when you were there. Then again, the Score has had it's share of tension too. Is there just something innately stressful about sportstalk that brings that out?

Ben: It's definitely not the stress. There are several jobs out there that create a lot more stress than sports radio. We're not putting our lives on the line. We're just breaking down the Bears offensive line. I think the tense times came from the fact that these are guys paid to have opinions and to express them to others. There's no switch to flip. Mac doesn't turn off a microphone and all of sudden go into a shell. He likes to say what's on his mind. As do Harry and Jurko. And I'm sure that's the case with a lot of talk show hosts. But anybody who tells you they're stressed out by talk radio is a drama queen. Passover seders with the family are more stressful. I know there's always a ratings battle staring us in the face and jobs are always on the line. But the worst case scenario is you get fired. I'm sure finding another job isn't that hard. Just ask Mike North.

Rick: You got an opportunity to host or co-host shows at ESPN, particularly on the weekend. Is the Score giving you the same opportunity?

Ben: Yes, I believe that's part of the plan. At the very least I can always call into Les Grobstein's show. That's almost like co-hosting. For now it'll be some weekend stuff at varied times. There are a lot of really good shows on our station so I appreciate wherever they can squeeze me in. That's the beauty of the Score as opposed to ESPN. We're local and live at almost all points of the week. It's tough getting air time at ESPN in between national broadcasts of the John Kincade Show and the replay of the John Kincade Show.

Rick: I know you're still relatively young, and you've got your whole career ahead of you, but what direction do you hope to take it?

Ben: Relatively young, huh? My irritable bowel syndrome says differently. Either way, I'd like to be on the air full time. I want to be the next Dan McNeil or Dan Bernstein or Marc Silverman. Or even Steve Dahl. Actually I want to be better than all of them. But I have a long way to go to get to that point in both talent and accomplishments. Plus there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other guys who want the same thing and have as much a shot at it as I do. But I really don't have any other skills. So I'm willing to be patient.

Rick: Last question. I know you're a fellow Illini as well as a fellow long suffering Cubs fan. Which happens first? An Illinois national championship or a Cubs World Series Championship, or will we die waiting for both?

Ben: Are you including all sports? Because perhaps you weren't aware that the Illini men's tennis team won a national title a few years back. If you're talking major sports I'd say an Illini basketball national championship is the most likely of the bunch. I don't think our football team will ever win one. Ever. Since the BCS began in the 90s the champions have been Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida and Alabama. That's a group of elite programs much further along on the college football timeline of evolution than Illinois. And the Cubs? After the debacle of the 2008 playoffs I, for the first time, began to think they'll never win again. But that was before the Mike Quade era began. So who knows?