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Finebaum Hits It Big At ESPN

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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

Sports Radio News

Jeff Rickard Named Program Director of WFNZ in Charlotte

“After our first conversation I knew Jeff was the one to take us to the next level.”

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Jeff Rickard is headed to Charlotte. The sports radio veteran has been named the new program director of WFNZ, one of the Southeast’s premier sports radio brands.

Rickard replaces Terry Foxx who announced in February that he was leaving Charlotte to take over KUT in Austin. 

“We are committed to making sports radio even bigger in Charlotte, adding the 92.7 FM signal in March was just the beginning of that commitment,” Marsha Landess, Regional Vice President of Radio One, said in a press release. “Having a successful veteran like Jeff Rickard join our team will help take us to the level that a passionate sports city like Charlotte deserves. Jeff brings to WFNZ extensive sports experience, talent, drive, and a passion for success. He will be a great complement to our incredibly talented local Charlotte on-air team. After our first conversation I knew he was the one to take us to the next level. As the flagship station for the Charlotte Hornets as well as Charlotte FC we are looking forward to an incredibly successful future with Jeff leading the charge.”

Rickard’s resume in sports radio speaks for itself. He was most recently the brand manager at WEEI in Boston, a role he exited in January. Prior to that, he spent six years at 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis serving as both a weekday host and the station’s program director. He has also worked nationally for ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio, and SiriusXM, and spent time during the early part of his career working in Denver and Salt Lake City.

“I had been planning on taking a professional sabbatical this year but after meeting with Marsha Landess and learning more about Radio One, I began to get more excited to get back to work,” shared Rickard. “Radio One as a company, combined with Marsha’s leadership and the potential for WFNZ, was just too appealing to not be a part of. I am extremely grateful to Radio One for this opportunity and can’t wait to start working with the talented staff in Charlotte. My family and I are all in on this situation and can’t wait to get started on this new chapter.”

Not one to waste time diving in, Rickard officially stepped into the Charlotte offices today to meet his new staff.

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Sports Radio News

Kirk Herbstriet Wants To Be Held To Same Standard For NFL As College Football

“Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.”

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The NFL schedule was released last week, and Thursday Night Football has a lot of interesting matchups for its first year on Amazon Prime. It is also a new broadcast booth with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit on the call. 

With Herbstreit now adding Thursday Night Football to College Gameday, he has already started preparing for the upcoming season. Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.

“I’m just trying to lay a foundation,” said Herbstreit. 

Herbstreit told McAfee that whenever anyone asks him to talk about a college team, he can quickly tell them what the DNA of that team is. Now he wants to bring that level of preparation to his NFL broadcasts. He will look at a different matchup every week this summer to get a more detailed idea of what each team is about: 

As for his connection with Al Michaels, Herbstreit mentioned he has gone out to dinner with him a couple of times and he wants to make going out to eat with his broadcast partner a frequent deal.

“Hung out with him 2-3 times. Had a chance just to get to know him. When you go into a new deal, I love like Wednesday night dinner, I want to make a staple and just hang out and get to know him and hopefully he will get to know me. When you do that, it allows you to have natural chemistry.”

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Sports Radio News

Andrew Mason To Succeed John Clayton At 104.3 The Fan

“Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.”

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John Clayton passed away earlier this year. That left 104.3 The Fan without a lead Broncos writer for the 2022 season. On Monday, the station announced that it had hired a successor in Andrew Mason.

Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.

“Mase’s work speaks for itself as one of the market’s most respected analysts when it comes to writing about and discussing the Broncos,” Raj Sharan, The Fan’s program director, said in a press release. “Replacing someone of the legendary stature of John Clayton was not something we took lightly, and we believe Mase is the perfect person to pick up that mantle and bring tremendous credibility and content to our rapidly growing digital platforms.”

Andrew Mason has a lot of credibility with Broncos fans. He has covered the team for 19 years. He has also written a book called Tales from the Denver Broncos Sideline.

The Fan won’t be his first foray into Denver radio either. Mason has previously been a host on Mile High Sports Radio and the defunct KDSP- AM.

“I’m thrilled to join The Fan team and add what I can to the efforts of building Denver’s premier online destination for Denver fans,” said Mason. “Being tasked with replacing a legend like John Clayton is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I’m honored The Fan has entrusted me with this opportunity.”

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