It was precisely seven days ago that Pat Bowlen's plane first landed at Centennial Airport with the legendary number 18, Peyton Manning, on board. That flight brought with it a circus that hasn't even begun to leave town. Manning flew home, but he left behind a frenzy of speculation that is showing no signs of slowing down.
Broncos fans are insatiable. We want answers, analysis, rumors and gossip - we want it live, we want it local and we want it on our radio from sunup to sundown.
Denver Sports Radio has never had a week like this. All three stations, 104.3 The Fan, 102.3 ESPN and Mile High Sports FM 93.7 are experiencing massive call volume. Personalities who make their living behind a microphone have become must-follows for fans on Twitter. Many of those fans have tuned in.
Listenership has absolutely exploded - and with more listeners has come greater competition to be the go-to show for the latest breaking information on Manning. Radio people have followed every twitch of this Manning story, largely through social media.
Darren McKee has been talking Sports in Denver ever since he hung up his four-wheeling heavy-metal shock-jock persona early last decade. He's a fixture at 104.3 theFan where he co-hosts the drive time show with former Bronco, Alfred Williams.
He is also one of the most entertaining, if not entirely intelligible, follows on Twitter.
McKee, better known as Dmac, provided late-night entertainment to his many thousands of followers during pre-Super Bowl festivities in Indianapolis and later reported the Perrish Cox trial in fascinating real-time detail using only his smart phone. Among Denver's Sports Radio veterans, Dmac is the Twitter master. He told me that the Manning story is among the biggest in Denver radio history largely thanks to social media. "I was on the air when Mike Shanahan was fired," Dmac told me, "...and when McDaniels came and when he was fired. The Manning story is in a class by itself. It's the biggest free-agency story of all time. It would not have been this big even a year ago and that's because of Twitter."
McKee believes that having a form of instantaneous communication at their disposal has improved the local hosts' ability to report alongside national media outlets. "It takes power away from the big players," he says. "I am fascinated by the media. It just so happens that I am a part of it,"he said, "anybody can be a source. Blue-collar guys who park cars, waitresses, you never know who might get hold of you and give you information. We beat all the networks to stuff. Denver has been unbelievable."
He also finds it unbelievable that the San Francisco media was as far behind as they were reporting that the 'Niners were in talks with Manning. "I'm embrassed for the S.F. media," he told me.
Peter Burns tackles the morning shift for Mile High Sports Radio along with Mark Kiszla and Eric Goodman. I asked Peter, who has lived in Denver for a year and a half, what he thought of being here and reporting on the Manning story. "My gosh. This is probably the most dynamic story I have ever covered. Most things only last a day or two." Burns came to Denver from San Antonio where he says sports weren't nearly as interesting to cover. "How could you be in a better market?" Burns asked. In response I suggested that most folks look at Denver as "flyover country." Burns found that notion laughable: "Flyover country is Sacramento ... San Antonio. Denver is huge from the outside looking in."
As for social media, Burns called it a "crazy roller coaster." "This story is perfect for Twitter," he said, "Twitter has become Sports Radio 24/7. It's always live and always local. It's unbelievable."
As for the story its self, Peter told me: "Tebow multiplies it, but Peyton Manning stands on his own." Will Manning be a Bronco? "Ask me in 48 hours," was all he would say.
The fast-talking Brandon Spano hosts the Brandon Spano show on Mile High Sports Radio from 8-10 PM weekdays. Spano has picked up over 1,000 Twitter followers in just the past week and has become among the voices fans are turning to for the latest dirt. I spoke with him on the telephone this morning. "It's been absolutely insane." Spano told me. "I have been working my ass off on this story."
His hard work has been apparent. Spano has busily tracked down every imaginable lead on Peyton Manning and his intentions and he has been quick to share what he has learned.
Spano has also recieved a fair amount of criticism for following some leads to dead ends. He has gotten blasted essentially for trying too hard to break stories. But, for every follower who criticises Spano, he gains two more loyal fans. "The phone lines have been insanely busy," he said. Spano's show attracts more listeners every day and he is emerging as a leader on the Manning beat. He recieves hundreds of questions via Twitter each day and anxious listeners tune it to see what Spano wil say next.
A host who takes an entirely different approach is Nate Kreckman of 102.3 ESPN's afternoon drive program, co-hosted by CU Buffs legend Charles "CJ" Johnson. Kreckman's delivery is light hearted and he makes no real effort to break news. "I would say the are some guys in the industry who are trying to be (ESPN NFL reporter) Adam Schefter," Nate told me, "My station pays (Denver Post reporter) Mike Klis to report. My job is to react. I'm a sports radio talk dude. I have a clear sense of what I am here to do."
Kreckman says he uses social media mostly for entertainment. He claims: "I'm not trying to be some sort of insider." More often than not, Kreckman is just trying to be funny. He does have a head for Sports, though. And his insights are often unique and captivating.
Referring to the Manning story he remarked: "The ups and downs of Tebowmania were pretty crazy but this thing has three of the biggest sports names of the past thirty years, Elway, Manning and Tebow."
Renaud Notaro of Mile High Sports is a 15 year veteran of the Denver Sports scene, having covered all the local teams from the pros to the High Schools. He's hosted a radio show for six of those years. Notaro was the first to plant the Manning seed in many peoples minds. He suggested that the Broncos should pursue him several days before they actually did. "People said I was crazy," laughs Renaud.
He's a big fan of his format. "This is why Sports Radio will survive..." he told me, "...because people love to talk Sports." "I don't take a lot of callers but my phones have been ringing off the hook."
I asked Notaro if he could remember a story this big: "In 1997 the Broncos were the best team in football," he reminded me, "that team was a big story. Anticipation of Super Bowls ... Elway's retirement ... those were up there. The watching is what's so crazy about this one. But it's the Broncos - and people want to know what's going on. It really puts Pat Bowlen on the spot. Do you want to send Demaryius Thomas to the Pro-Bowl? Number 18 is right there. You just have to get him."
Of the personalities I spoke to, Notaro was the most dubious about social media's role in the Manning saga and in reporting in general. He complains: "There is no responsibility on social media. Nobody knows the difference between a source and a good source. We used to need two confirmed sources before we could say anything. Ten years ago some of these guys would have been fired."
He's also angered by the ways in which credible reporters have their stories parrotted without proper credit being given to them:
"With social media you might break a story and within three seconds 500 people have stolen it and made no effort to tell people where it came from. It's removing all responsibility from reporting."
Renaud is a fountain of Broncos commentary. I asked him if he though the Broncos will land their big fish. "I want to think so," he told me, "if they are one of two teams you have to feel pretty good, right?" On the other hand, if the Broncos lose out on Manning, he says: "it will make Elway look like a giant buffoon." It wouldn't bother Renaud. "It would be good news for me. I have a radio show to do. If we get him it will be great but if we don't it's almost better."
He feels that Elway made his biggest mistake when he started Tebow in the first place: "What's the saying? If you listen to the fans you'll end up sitting with them? The Broncos listened to the fans and Tebow Nation went from 15-20 thousand people to millions. Now he needs to sign someone like Manning if he wants to escape those fans."
On Sunday a brand new Sports Radio show will hit the airwaves. Denver Sports Nation Radio with Adam Kay and Dario (AKA D in Denver) will celebrate its innagural show from 1-4 pm on 102.3 ESPN. The duo has been broadcasting together nightly on the web via Blog Talk Radio for over a year and they are looking forward to going terrestrial. Dario feels fortunate about the timing of his first episode. "It seems easy right now becuase there is so much to talk about."
Even though he's becoming a professional, Dario is a fan first. He says that the Manning fiasco has been "very stressful." He takes comfort in being a Tebow fan, though. "That's one thing that makes me feel great," Dario says, "that if we can't get Manning we will still have Super Timmy."
As a passionate consumer of Sports Radio and Twitter I can say with certainty that the past week has been the nuttiest I can remember. Manning news flies by so fast that I have felt like I can't afford to look away for fear that I will miss the moment that the story finally breaks and Manning decides whether or not he will play for the Broncos. I just hope that when it does the information comes from a reliable source.
I want to thank D in Denver, Dmac, Peter Burns, Renaud Notaro and Nate Kreckman for agreeing to be interviewed for this peice.