Whatever controversy might be brewing in college football, you can count on Paul Finebaum to comment on it.
He did as a newspaper columnist and radio host in Birmingham, and now he does it daily on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.
“What gives Paul Finebaum the right to voice his opinion on sports — he’s never touched a ball in his life,” said Charles Barkley of Leeds. “He can come on the radio and everybody in Alabama thinks it’s the gospel because Finebaum said it.”
The 59-year-old Finebaum, born in Memphis and educated at the University of Tennessee, built his reputation in newspapers and enhanced it in radio. Now he is known nationwide as a fearless commentator who isn’t timid about bashing callers and coaches.
“Back in the day I was just thrilled to be writing a column for a newspaper,” Finebaum said. “My dream was to work for a big newspaper, maybe the New York Times.
“I started from scratch. There has been a shift over the years. I was evolving, and I found myself choosing radio over newspapers.”
As a talk show host on WJOX in Birmingham, Finebaum and his callers would often go into a tizzy over some trivial matter. If you called his show, you may have been shouted down, but hey, you had plenty of company.
Someone once said the show is most compelling when the wheels come off. And if the wheels came off one day, they were back on the next, with callers backed up on the hold line, eager to talk to Finebaum … until his contract expired in January 2013 and he was off the air.
“I decided not to renew it and became a free agent, so to speak,” he said.
During his four-month layoff, he signed a contract with HarperCollins for $650,000 to write a book, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” which spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list.
As listeners waited eagerly to find out what Finebaum would do next, the announcement that he would go to ESPN with a five-year contract was surprising.
“I could see a change coming, but not this,” he said. “There are days I still can’t believe it.”
And with the promotion to ESPN, Finebaum has been on his best behavior … most of the time.
“After a while, you don’t want to keep being a bull in a china shop every day,” he said. “As I’ve gone through changes, I now try to elicit comments more from listeners.”
But he can still be combative. Recently a caller from Ohio argued that the Big Ten was better than the SEC. After bickering back and forth, Finebaum called him a “blithering idiot.”
The same person called back a day or two later and apologized. “Aw, that’s OK,” Finebaum said.
The caller asked, If Ohio State played in the SEC West, who would win the division? Finebaum thought about it and replied, “Ohio State.”
“At the core, Paul is a good person and he very much believes in the good of the people,” said Joe Tessitore, Finebaum’s colleague at ESPN. “He is brilliant in ways that aren’t obvious … he’s flat-out smart and perceptive and analytical. He is a craftsman at the unique craft he himself seemingly created.”
Tessitore added, “His ability to listen well to both callers and guests is superb” and his understanding of Southern football and life has “blossomed to mega success.”
Off the air, Finebaum is mild-mannered and reserved.
“He is less confrontational, very comfortable, and smiles and laughs more,” Tessitore said.
Chris Vernon, a sports radio host in Memphis, once said “Outside of Nick Saban, Paul Finebaum is the most famous person in Alabama.” To which Saban replied, “I don’t think you can function in the Southeast and not know who Paul is.”
Finebaum’s reaction: “Any time you hear something like that it’s flattering, but I don’t take it seriously.”
Saban and Finebaum are friends. They met when Saban was head coach at LSU.
“He was involved in some controversy there involving (former Alabama coach) Dennis Franchione, and I was extremely fair to him,” Finebaum said. “Later, the day after he left the Miami Dolphins to go to Alabama, he came on our show. It was his way of saying thanks, I remember what you did.”
Finebaum majored in political science at Tennessee but, after reading a biography of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, he developed a keen interest in sports.
He became sports editor of the Daily Beacon, UT’s student newspaper, where he stirred the pot just as he did later in Birmingham.
“No doubt, that’s where it all started,” he said.
In 1978, the year after Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King left Tennessee for the NBA, the Vols lost at home to a small-school team they should have beaten.
“I wrote a story that said the Tennessee basketball program died that night. We bordered it in black in the paper,” Finebaum recalled. “I was banned from traveling with the team.”
Last year, he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater. He returned to Knoxville to accept it and speak to students in the school of communications.
Mike Slive, who retired recently after 13 years as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, calls Finebaum “a renaissance man,” explaining that he has a broad range of intellectual interests including literature, politics, philosophy and history.
When Finebaum lived in Birmingham, he and Slive would shop for books and meet for lunch.
“We seldom talked sports, but we would share books,” Slive said. “He liked books about important media personalities such as Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Tom Brokaw and others.
“He has a great sense of humor and he is extremely bright,” Slive said. “He’s a private person while at the same time a very good friend. And he is uniquely skilled at what he does.”
So when you turn on ESPN and The Paul Finebaum Show, you’ll still hear Tammy from Clanton and Legend from Hueytown. But more and more, callers from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and even California are checking in with the man The Wall Street Journal once called “the Oprah Winfrey of college football.”
ESPN wants to expand his role, according to Rosalyn Durant, head of the SEC Network. She recently told AL.com, “We want to continue to grow his brand on television. … You can expect to see more of Paul.”
Finebaum met his wife, Dr. Linda Hudson, when they lived in the same Birmingham apartment complex. Married for 25 years now, they sold their house in Shoal Creek and moved to Charlotte, home of the SEC Network, where she is an internist for the Carolinas HealthCare System.
With football fast approaching, Finebaum made these predictions for the 2015 season:
SEC championship game: Alabama over Georgia. College Football Playoff: Alabama, TCU, Ohio State and Southern California. National champion: Ohio State.
Credit to the Anniston Star who originally published this article
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].
ESPN 97.5 in Houston Announces New Lineup
“The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week.”
ESPN 97.5 in Houston announced they will have a new lineup starting Monday Feb. 26. The drive time slots will continue to feature John Granato and Lance Zierlein in mornings and The Killer B’s, Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank, in the afternoon.
In between the two shows will now have The Del Olaleye Show airing from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by Gallant and George with Paul Gallant, who had been hosting the early midday slot previously and Joe George, the station’s Assistant Program Director.
Earlier this week, Josh Beard and Michael Connor confirmed they had been let go from the station after being in the midday slot for just six months. George posted on X at the time, “So here’s the deal. The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week. It has nothing to do with the quality of their show and work they did. Programming on the station will be weird this week, then back to fully local from 7 am – 6 pm on 2/26.”
Former Toronto Blue Jays Announcer Ben Wagner Named to Baltimore Orioles Broadcast Team
A release from the Blue Jays says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.
The Baltimore Orioles announced the club’s broadcast talent lineup for the 2024 season, which includes former Toronto Blue Jays announcer Ben Wagner. Wagner had served as the radio voice of the Blue Jays for the last six seasons before Sportsnet announced it decided not to renew his contract. Prior to joining the Blue Jays broadcast team, Wagner spent 11 seasons with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. A release from the Orioles says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.
The Orioles will continue to use guest analysts throughout the season, including Orioles Hall of Famers Mike Devereaux and Brian Roberts, as well as former Orioles Brad Brach and Dave Johnson.
Geoff Arnold will return for his fifth season with the Orioles broadcast team and will be the primary play-by-play announcer. Kevin Brown will be in his third season as the primary television play-by-play announcer for MASN.
Other team members for the 2024 season include Scott Garceau, Brett Hollander, Rob Long, Ben McDonald, Melanie Newman and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who will be in his 32nd season as an analyst and 61st year as a member of the Orioles organization.
Fred Toucher: ‘I Would Feel Weird’ if Rich Shertenlieb Reached Out to Me
“Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me.”
Fred Toucher is in the midst of co-hosting a new morning program on 98.5 The Sports Hub with Rob “Hardy” Poole. The Toucher & Hardy show made its premiere in January following the end of a 17-year run in which he worked alongside Rich Shertenlieb. Last November, Shertenlieb parted ways with the outlet that elicited questions and nostalgia from listeners, some of which continue to persist on the new program.
On Friday’s edition of the program, a caller asked Toucher about the last time he spoke to Shertenlieb and if there was still communication between them. The duo started hosting their radio program together at rock radio station WBCN-FM before making the move to the sports talk format with 98.5 The Sports Hub (WBZ-FM) for its launch in the summer of 2009. The caller wanted to specifically hear a “juicy story” and apologized if his broaching the topic was “a forbidden path.”
“I have not talked to Rich,” Toucher said. “I told you I got the text message the Saturday after they didn’t put him on the air anymore, and I haven’t talked to him.”
Toucher wondered who among former members of the Toucher & Rich program had heard from Shertenlieb, leading him to go around the studio and ask. Update anchor Jon Wallach revealed that Shertenlieb texted him on Thanksgiving Day to discuss how the music group Bell Biv DeVoe was performing, but he has not heard from him since. None of the others in the studio had heard from Shertenlieb in a considerable amount of time either.
“None of us were really friends with him so I don’t know what to tell you,” Toucher replied to the caller. “I wasn’t friends with him; I didn’t talk to him, so it’s not odd that I don’t talk to him.”
Toucher then began to hypothesize what would happen if Shertenlieb were to reach out to him. As he thought over such a potential occurrence, he realized that he would have a feeling in his stomach and get anxiety. He did concede, however, that if someone paid him a large sum of money to appear somewhere with Shertenlieb, he would do the 10 seconds.
“I would feel weird; I wouldn’t enjoy the process,” Toucher said. “Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me. You’d make me incredibly uncomfortable. Just don’t do it.”
In thinking about the potential nostalgia from Toucher & Rich, the program briefly mentioned Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo and his relationship with former co-host Mike Francesa. Toucher believes that Russo is doing fine without Francesa, a sentiment Wallach concurred. Wallach also shared that he feels Russo is doing better after Mike and the Mad Dog than Francesa.
Russo hosts a SiriusXM program on the Mad Dog Sports Radio channel named after him, in addition to High Heat on MLB Network and a weekly appearance on ESPN’s First Take. The split between both shows elicited interest from the listening public, something Toucher completely understands because of the unique facets of radio.
“People consume you 20 hours a week or they conceivably could, so when there’s any change, your immediate reaction to it, even though it hasn’t been bad, a lot of people if you listen to an old thing all the time it’s going to be strange to you, a new thing, or when a component of it is missing,” Toucher explained, “even if it’s better than it was, which I contend Toucher & Hardy over the last three weeks is better than Toucher & Rich was in 2023 and 2022 certainly.”
The segment concluded with Toucher proclaiming that he had answered the question and now will not have to entertain it again. “I have no idea what he’s doing and no one I know does, and no one I know has seen him,” Toucher said. “I haven’t even had a listener email me and go, ‘I saw him.’”