Pictured above: Dave Woloshin and Matt Dillon University of Memphis mens basketball analyst
photos by Joe Murphy Photography
Few professions have been untouched by the coronavirus. Most workers must now wear a face mask and everyone practices social distancing. COVID-19 has made some jobs especially tricky. For example, consider the role of a sports broadcaster. There are no sporting events to cover, nor have there been for several months.
That is exactly where Memphis Jewish sports personality Dave Woloshin finds himself. “Wolo” is the voice of the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team. He also shares the mic every weekday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with co-host Brett “Stats” Norsworthy on Sports 56 Real Sports Talk at 96.1 FM and 560 AM.
The popular “Sportstime on Sports 56 with Wolo and Stats” is a freewheeling sports show – in a normal year. Now, the pair still cover sports, just in a more creative fashion. It begins with the physical distance between the co-hosts. Woloshin sits in the Sports 56 broadcast studio while Norsworthy calls in from his Forest City, Ark., home. That’s just one change.
“Make no mistake about it – this is a lot harder, and it’s not nearly as much fun,” Woloshin said. “Both Stats and I love sports, so we would be watching sports whether we were working or not, and it’s a whole different matter where we’re working on stuff that we don’t have quite the same passion for.”
The pair has had to pivot (to use a basketball term) to often covering topics far afield from the playing field. The pandemic is never far off from their agenda.
“It is incredibly different,” he said. “First off, I go to the coronavirus dashboard every day, and look at all those numbers. So really, the first half-hour is basically the top stories of the day and that can be pandemic-related or sports oriented. And we usually talk about the Major League Baseball Players Association offering and discuss whether we think baseball players will come back (now scheduled for late July). Later we’ll give an NBA update, and I think they will probably return.
“Then at 3:30, we’ve been doing a pandemic-related interview,” Woloshin said. “That could be a medical story or one about the economy, or it could be about education. So we have a guest, which could be someone like the mayor, and we devote a 15-minute segment to that. So, we have become a much more news-oriented program while still covering sports. And there are still sports stories to cover, whether you are theorizing what might be or you are taking a walk down memory lane, which we have done a lot of.”
Since the pandemic is hovering over every aspect of our lives, Woloshin and Norsworthy often discuss it through a sports lens. They have two regular segments called “High Hard Ones” and Heck Yeah, Hell No” where they ask each other thought-provoking questions and consider all aspects of a subject.
“We may do more philosophizing, or speculating about things like what if the pandemic starts to come back when you bring the teams back. In Memphis, the Tigers football team is going to come back for volunteer workouts. So, the whole team is going to be living together, and they’re going to be eating together. I don’t know what the protocol is on how they’re going to be screened and tested but what do they do if there’s a positive case?
“Then let’s say there are eight cases or 14 cases –a cluster. What happens then? Are we shutting down again? And what happens, G-d forbid, if an athlete, a young person dies from COVID-19 because we came back. Those are the kinds of things we ask ourselves now, as opposed to back when we were saying ‘What was that guy thinking – swinging on 3 and 0.’”
Creating an entertaining radio program about any subject boils down to solid prep work, Woloshin said. He and Norsworthy familiarize themselves with the subject they plan to discuss, and understand the various sides to the story. At 3:30 p.m., it’s go time. While it almost seems a distant memory, Woloshin also remembers exactly what he was doing when the sports world shut down.
“About four hours prior to the announcement of Rudy Gobert (the Utah Jazz all-star and first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19) changing the world, I said, ‘When an athlete has a positive test, everything’s going to be different. It’ll be a game changer.’ And that is exactly what occurred, not realizing as I made that statement how that would affect me or really the whole business side, it was just the way the world runs.
“And now if I look at the ramifications, obviously my job is a lot harder to do. But I think the psychological aspect is the hardest. We’ve lost the continuity from the past to the future, because we don’t know what the future is.”
He pointed to the uncertainty of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and Major League Baseball’s season, both of which came to an abrupt halt in March along with every other professional and college sports event. The truncated baseball season in 2020 will look far different, with no fans in the ballparks, social distancing limits for players and even limitations on ballplayer’s penchant for chewing gum and sunflower seeds. Woloshin grew up on the north side of Chicago, so he is a Cubs fan by birthright. The thought of the designated hitter (DH) coming to the National League is enough to make his head spin.
I hate the DH, but I think we’re going to get it, and would have at some point anyway, so this is a good excuse for them to really bring it forth. I think this is going to be a year – If we have a season – this will be a year of experimentation that could very well be the future of the game.”
Woloshin also wonders if a baseball game, or hockey, or basketball or any other team sport will have fan appeal without fans present to cheer the home team on and jeer the visitors. It would be nice to have sports again, just to take our minds off of the litany of problems 2020 has ushered in through the mid-point in the year.
“We’ve got murder hornets,” Woloshin said. “We’ve got earthquakes, we got hurricanes. Obviously, the pandemic. It’s like Passover, and the plagues, but on a regular basis!”