As the seconds ticked down on the clock at the now-infamous University of Rhode Island vs. then-No. 21 University of Nebraska basketball game in November, Tom Porter was on the edge of his seat- waiting for URI to “blow it.”
And when the clock hit zero and URI didn’t blow it, every person tuned to his play-by-play coverage on 90.3 FM got to hear his reaction as spectators flooded the court in celebration.
“I lost it,” Porter said. “I went absolutely insane. That was probably the highest high.”
Now the FM sports director, Porter, a junior, started at WRIU his freshman year as a heavy metal DJ. Â Inspired by the passion and drive of the staff, he quickly added a journalism major to complement the history degree he had already declared and progressed through the ranks of URI broadcast sports- his true passion.
“As a whole, we’re off the beaten path,” Porter said, adjusting the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX hat on his head that matches the team’s iconic blue and red insignia on his shirt. “We’re students. We can afford to get swept up in it, give a more emotional call, make it more exciting.”
Since he took over as FM sports director for WRIU this fall, Porter has, in his words, “idiot-proofed” the process of live-broadcasting sports games, streamlining the once-marathonic feat that was broadcasting a six-hour softball doubleheader. Â Back-to-back baseball games and long timeouts during basketball games were just as brutal.
Previous to this year, a sports broadcast for WRIU was put together by three people, a play-by-play and color commentator at the event and a technician in the WRIU studio to monitor sound levels. Â With coverage starting before the game with starting lineups and continuing seamlessly through timeouts with no commercial breaks. “It was excruciating,” Porter said.
This year, in what Porter calls “the new days” of FM sports, the PSA breaks he built into the non-commercial station’s sports broadcasts give the commentators a chance to breathe. Â The fourth team member he added to all broadcasts, a pre- and postgame host, takes stress off the other broadcasters. Â “It keeps everyone sharp,” Porter said. Â “You can breathe. Â You can get a drink as opposed to just going for three hours.”
Porter also ruled that the technician in the studio during a broadcast was a sports staff member, ensuring if something went wrong, everyone involved in the broadcast would care. Â “If something goes down, if we have a technical difficulty, opposed from someone tossing on organ music from a pre-recorded show three weeks ago you have someone up there who’s like, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on in the game,’” Porter said.
Because the station is non-commercial, it does not actively track its ratings and viewership is not quantitated. “It’s just not really who we are,” Porter said. Â This summer, however, he got a call that told them those numbers could be bigger than anyone thought.
Clear Channel Communications, a national radio corporation that owns stations such as HJY, offered WRIU an iHeartRadio station if they relinquished their rights to cover basketball away games. Â Though Porter turned down the offer, it got him thinking.
“If … we’re making a multibillion dollar company angry enough where they noticed us, when we don’t get ratings because we don’t really care about ratings, that means we’re making a dent,” he said. “That to me said, ‘Someone’s actually listening to us? Â I wonder how much of a bigger bite we can take.’”
In continuing his effort to take that bigger bite, Porter has scheduled the broadcast 23 sports games for the spring semester including basketball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s hockey and soccer. Â Â With the exception of basketball, the sports coverage is exclusive to WRIU.
Though Porter is happy with the progress FM sports has made, don’t make the mistake of assuming he is content. Â “Never be content,” Porter said. “I hate contentment, I hate people who are happy with their lot in life.”
Porter’s show, “The Sports Power Half-Hour”, runs Tuesday through Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. on WRIU. Â “It’s like Tom Brady [says],” Porter said, “I look forward to the next broadcast.”