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Jeremy White and the Job That Never Ends

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An Interview With the Founding Father of the Tank

@JeremyWGR (Used with permission)

For the majority of Buffalo sports fans, there is very little middle ground on matters related to Jeremy White.

Some view White as an entertaining voice who is skilled at challenging the deep-rooted orthodoxies connected to professional sports, others view him as an arrogant heretic who relies too much on stats and too little on the opinions of Guys Who Played the Game. Ambivalent listeners to the morning show White co-hosts with Howard Simon on WGR 550 are a rarity.

Like him or hate him, one has to acknowledge that White is a very talented broadcaster. We are, after all, talking about a guy who regularly created interesting and sometimes riveting radio during two of the ugliest seasons in the history of the Buffalo Sabres.

Recently, White was kind enough to take some time to reflect on his work at WGR, the relationship he has with his listeners, and the current state of the Buffalo Sabres.

TH: You recently celebrated your 16th anniversary at WGR. What are the most significant differences between the youngster who arrived to WGR back in 2001 and the guy who currently co-hosts the morning show with Howard Simon?

JW: I’ve been beaten down by a lot of losing.

Kidding— sort of. I’d say the difference between me then and now is about the same as any 21-year old compared to a 37-year old.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot. With maturity in age or worldview comes a better understanding for what people might want to listen to on the radio. At 21, I wanted to get on the air, establish that I was willing to work hard, and be remembered.

At 37, I just want to stay on top of things. The job is to entertain and inform. Sometimes that means talking about something we’ve already talked about 50 times in a new way, and other times it means mentioning something that you eventually will talk about 50 times. I want to challenge the way people (myself included) think about the boring old BS that exists throughout sports and life. One thing that’s been encouraging of late with the blossoming of analytics, is that we now know that the teams are more open to challenging and changing as well.

In as much detail as you care to share, can you describe the preparation that goes in to producing four hours of radio on an average morning?

It’s daily life. It’s hearing a conversation and making a mental note of it. I can hear five minutes of Colin Cowherd, or see a guy walking his cat down Main Street. The job never ends. While we’re in office about 4-5 hours a day, every waking moment is an opportunity to find a conversation that can be interesting. I’ll get topics out of books, websites, podcasts, or anything really.

Howard Simon and you seem like an unlikely pairing, but it’s an unlikely pairing that works. What is it about your partnership that has kept you guys together on the radio for over a dozen years?

He's incredibly nice and deals with me. When we got teamed up I was 25-years old and somehow he survived that.

One of the interesting parts of your job, I think, is that you want to establish a fairly close relationship with your listeners, but you aren’t particularly invested in having those listeners like you. It’s also worth noting that you have a very public job that affords you a good deal of anonymity. How would you describe the relationship you have with your listeners? When you are out in public and people discover who you are, how do they react?

I’m definitely invested in having all listeners like me, but the reality is that it’s just not all that realistic. Can’t please all of the people all of the time. If you’re going to be in a position where you tell people what you think you have to expect that some won’t like it. Maybe it offends them or who knows, but I’m not offended if someone tunes in and thinks I’m some obnoxious, overbearing, uninformed hot take artist. I don’t have to agree with that opinion.

If you want everyone to like you, you’ll probably never say anything challenging. The investment is in getting people to listen. I want to provide an entertaining product that provides information and sometimes challenges conventional thinking. I never say anything that I don’t believe. Sure, we lay out hypotheticals and crazy scenarios, but if I’m telling you that I believe it, that means I do. I can’t fake anything like that.

The listeners that love the show, tell me sometimes. It’s always great. My text club during the tank, the 30 Club, is the single greatest thing for this. Those 3,000 fools (like me) stayed up late watching Edmonton and Arizona. Whenever I’d send a text I’d get hundreds of responses from witty fans. It was a treat to read through them and think “THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!” Sometimes it can be hard to remember that they’re out there, but they’re not as likely to reach out as some dude with an egg for his Twitter profile. One year, on Easter Sunday, I got a long email from some guy asking me to please leave town. Essentially saying, “Move away. No one likes you. You’re ruining the entire sports scene.”

Like most things, complaints come in more than praise. So thanks to that 30 Club. I owe every one of them a beer for going through that tank with me, and being all in as well.

What makes for better radio: a smart and insightful caller or Bill from Tonawanda suggesting that Thurman Thomas should be the next Offensive Coordinator of the Bills?

Whichever one makes people want to listen to how we handle it. Both can be good. Generally, the good call though. Then again… lots of people remember when a guy called Schopp and the Bulldog to complain that Stevie Johnson ate tacos during the week. I also remember a famous caller referring to Eichel, this year, as the next Jody Gage.

You’ve been on the radio during Stanley Cup runs, the Tank Years, and the sale of both the Sabres and Bills to the Pegula family. Looking back, what are some of the stories or issues you’ve covered that you regard as your best work?

I guess the tank was my best work. To anticipate it, engage in it, and use some unconventional tactics to keep people engaged is as proud as I’ve been. This goes back to what I mentioned before about staying ahead of the curve. We were talking McEichel a full ten months before that Sabres season started. It was easy for me because I believed in it.

That’s the thing about any topic or issue. I can’t get behind something that I don’t believe in. I don’t play devil’s advocate on the radio. If I’m wishy-washy on an issue, I’ll say it. When I’m locked in, I’ll sing it from the rooftops. These are all the things that I’ve talked about too much (3-2-1 point system, QB sneaks on 4th down).

Does any of your past work make you cringe? Is there a specific opinion or topic that you look back on that makes you say, “good lord, what the hell was I thinking?”.

Definitely. At one point, the player I wanted the Sabres to acquire most was Flyers defenseman Jason Smith. There was a picture of him bleeding from his eyes that I remember— I wanted them to get tougher on the back end. I remember Glen Macnow in Philly saying “He moves with the speed of a glacier” yet I was undeterred. I was living in that hit, block shots, be tough mindset back then.

You learn though…

Also, I defended JP Losman for too long.

You’re a Sabres season ticket holder. What changes would you make to improve the overall fan experience down at Key Bank Center?

Promotions. Giveaways. T-shirt nights. Bobblehead nights. Posters. Magnets. Anything to make attending a game feel special— anything to get your fans excited about a night. The product on the ice is struggling... throw a few bones to your fans.

I find myself struggling a bit with expectations for the Sabres this year. It’s understood that patience is a virtue when watching a young team develop, but sometimes I get concerned that we’ve become a little too comfortable in using youth and injuries as acceptable excuses for losses. What is your general mindset regarding the Sabres these days?

You’ll find what someone thinks when they flip the word “reason” to “excuse”. Excuses and reasons are the same thing really, but if you’re angry, it’s an excuse.

Youth and injuries are acceptable excuses. The youth hasn’t been a problem, but the injuries have. On man-games lost and caliber of player missing time, the Sabres have been hit about as hard as any team in the NHL. The pace of points-per-game with Eichel in the lineup is better than without. They’d have about 4-6 more points and still be in the mix a bit. That’s still pretty close to the schedule.

Every team has a range they can hit in best case and worst case scenarios, this Sabres season has gone much closer to worst case scenario. It’s been annoying, but anyone trying to tell me it’s a sign of something bigger isn’t getting too far. Murray has had time. He owns the team as it’s constructed and it’s clearly due for some upgrades. You don’t necessarily have to have faith in him or the process, but just don’t try to tell me this team is an indication of a failed vision or anything like that.

You win a bar bet with Tim Murray that enables you to make three changes to the current Sabres roster. What do you do?

The one thing I’d want to know is what caliber defenseman I could get for Evander Kane. Until Kane signs, he’s just an asset. If Murray wants to re-sign him, then this conversation goes away. Kane, of course, has to want to sign here as well.

I’d want to stop getting bigger and tougher— something Murray seems to like— and start getting faster. I’d use all three moves on puck-moving defensemen for this team.

We’re roughly 130 games into the Dan Bylsma era. How would you evaluate his performance so far?

Incomplete. Uninspiring. Injuries. Incomplete roster. I’m getting antsy but I’ve felt all along that nothing happens to him until they look bad next year.

Bylsma v. The Blue Line is the Sabres version of chicken or the egg.

Kulikov has TWO points. Murray clearly liked him an awful lot, and liked him for his offensive game and puck moving capabilities. TWO points? Does Murray think he whiffed? Does he think Bylsma’s system doesn’t complement Kulikov?

You seem dedicated to destroying the groupthink associated with being a sports fan. Is there a popular narrative connected to the current Sabres season— or perhaps the NHL in general— that you think is grossly overrated?

You know I had a great answer for this but as I started to write it out, I lost all my momentum.

Thanks to Jeremy White for sharing his thoughts and experiences as a part of the Buffalo sports media landscape. You can listen to his morning show with Howard Simon from 6am-10am weekdays on WGR 550, and follow him on Twitter @JeremyWGR. You can follow Tim Hirschbeck on Twitter @TimHirschbeck.