I was watching the movie Fight Club the other day. Brad Pitt’s character says at one point, “If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.” That thought is a good description of Clay Travis’ style. Gaining a lot of attention and a monstrous following sometimes involves ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Clay’s on-air style makes me flash back to those old-school Rolling Stone descriptions of heavy metal bands. You know the ones that are littered with a flurry of colorful and unique adjectives. The uncompromising national host of Outkick the Coverage on FOX Sports Radio, Clay Travis unleashes a relentless fury of persuasions in headstrong and unapologetic fashion. Pointed, biting, yet mixed with an authenticity and honesty that isn’t commonly accessible. Sure, that’s a little thick, but it’s also accurate.
“People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me.” If that isn’t a great evaluation of the reaction to Clay Travis, I don’t know what is. Coincidentally, those comments come from Clay’s mouth in the interview below. Clay also explains that owning his Outkick the Coverage website affords him a luxury that many others don’t possess. It helps unlock his no-holds-barred honesty on the airwaves.
Another line from Fight Club fits — “I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.” In many ways, Clay Travis is the Tyler Durden of sports talk.
BN: Do you ever just wake up and say, “I don’t feel like dealing with crazy responses today?”
CT: (laughs) I don’t ever think about how people are going to respond to me. I definitely think when my alarm goes off in the 4:15 range in the morning central time — because I’m on east coast drive time living in the central time zone — I definitely think when it’s pitch black, “What am I doing with my life getting out of bed at 4:15am?”
I don’t really think about the way people are going to respond to what I say or write or do at all, but I definitely think, “My God, I’d like to just hit the alarm off and sleep for another three hours.” I would say that’s the most common thought I have at 4:15am when the alarm goes off. The other one is to turn the alarm off fast so I don’t wake up anybody else in the house.
Another thing is I’ve gotten pulled over a lot driving at 4:15-4:20am. I just hop in the car and get moving. It’s funny because the cops who are working the overnight shift will pull me over for going 45 in a 35 or whatever I’m doing on my way to work. It’s almost like they’re just checking to see if I’m coming home for the night or on my way to work. As soon as they see I’m on my way to work, they’re like, “Yeah, you’re fine.” I think they’re worried about drunk drivers and stuff like that because a lot of people, frankly, are still finishing their day when I’m starting mine.
BN: How long does it take for your mind to start functioning while you’re doing the show early in the morning?
CT: It doesn’t really take any time for my mind to start functioning. I’ve done middays and I’ve done afternoons. I think morning is a lot more challenging. Now, I will say it’s a lot more fulfilling because we get to talk before the new story of the day is set. Nobody has talked at all about any of the games that have happened by the time we’re talking.
I did afternoon drive for a long time in Nashville, and it’s crazy to me now with Periscope and Facebook and social media, that when I got started, I might be talking about a game that took place at noon on Saturday, and not talking about it until Monday afternoon. That’s 48 hours after the game has been over. That’s crazy to me now to think about doing something where it takes that long to react.
The other thing I’d say is great about mornings is I’m ahead of everybody. Sometimes I feel like the only people awake in the country are me and Donald Trump because I check my Twitter feed and nobody is tweeting anything. Then the president gets up and says something crazy on Twitter and it feels like he and I are the only two people up and moving that early in the morning getting in front of the news cycle. I think that all factors in. You definitely have a good sense of accomplishment. Like right now (while we’re doing this interview) it’s 10am my time and I’ve already been up for six hours.
The biggest challenge is as a dad. I used to love the time in the evening after my young kids were asleep. I could sit back and watch Netflix or I could read more regularly, and the news cycle would slow down. I would go to bed at midnight or 1am pretty much every night. I’m more of a night person than I am a day person. Now, I can’t stay up that consistently hardly at all and then turn around and do a three-hour morning show getting up at 4:15 in the morning.
BN: What has your career path been like up to this point of hosting Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?
CT: I came to do everything I’m doing through writing. I still think of myself primarily as a writer. If I had to give up everything else, I think I would give up writing the last. I moved from writing initially for an audience of zero on my own website with nobody who had any clue of who I was while I was a practicing attorney, to doing radio. I started doing radio just as radio hits as a guest.
I always tell people who are writers to do every radio interview that somebody requests (especially when you’re young) because it’s good practice. I found out that I was pretty good at radio by doing 10-15 minute hits as a guest talking about the columns that I had written. That led to a once-or-twice a week show on 104.5 The Zone. I think I was getting paid nothing. Then eventually I got paid 50 dollars a show. That led to middays on 104.5 The Zone, which led to afternoon drive, which then led to doing an NBC Sports national show. Then, I left and eventually FOX Sports Radio recruited me to come back and take over their morning show a couple of years ago.
BN: When you were doing the afternoon drive show on The Zone, was that a two or three-man show?
CT: Three man. Now, I was doing a Saturday show for NBC — a three-hour show by myself on Saturday mornings. For several years I did six days a week of radio, three hours a day. That wasn’t counting whatever radio hits I’d be doing around the country as well. I had never hosted a five-day-a-week show by myself — and look I’m not technically by myself all the time — I’ve got a couple of producers in L.A. and a producer in Nashville as well. There are a lot of people who think they can do a three-hour solo show for years at a time. I think the reality is there aren’t that many people who can do it — at least do it very well.
BN: How would you describe the differences between writing, radio and doing television?
CT: I think what you have to learn about writing versus radio versus TV is they’re all different. I think writing is the most difficult. Radio is the most time consuming. TV is the easiest. In TV, you have a huge collection of people trying to make you look good. Writing, you’re sitting in front of the screen all by yourself. Radio, you’re basically by yourself. TV, you walk in and there’s like six or seven producers and they’re like, “Hey, we think these are the 10 best topics to talk about. What’s your opinion on each of these?” If you talk for more than a minute in a row, you’ve talked for a long time on TV. By the way, a 30-minute television show is 23 minutes without commercial breaks.
There’s a reason why people don’t go very often from TV to radio to writing, and why writers, if they have the ability or the interest or desire, can go from writing to radio to TV easier. I think each step gets progressively easier. Now, there are certainly things about TV that you can’t control. You can’t control what you look like. You can’t control your mannerisms. You can’t control how your suit looks or whether your tie looks good or whether your hair looks normal. Like those are all cosmetic things and much of TV is about how you look as opposed to what you say. That’s different, where as radio everything you say — and writing, frankly, is all about the words. There’s a lot more cosmetic aspects of TV.
BN: When you’re listening to a sports talk show host, what type of style interests you most?
CT: I like to be entertained. I think the standards that apply across all those disciplines is what I try to be — smart, original, funny, and authentic. Not necessarily in every subject because sometimes you’re talking about serious subjects. Sometimes you’re talking about totally funny subjects so being really smart about it doesn’t necessarily apply, but I think over the course of your show on any given day, or over the course of my website, certainly over the course of television, my goal is to be smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think people who accomplish that on a daily basis are people that certainly I appreciate.
I’ve always said the guy I kind of pattern what I do in sports after as a young guy — I’m 38 now so I’m not that young — but the guy I used to pattern myself after to a large extent was Tony Kornheiser. I think he was the first guy to be great at writing, to be great at radio, and to be great at TV. My goal is and was to be good — and not just good but great — at all three of those disciplines.
BN: What annoys you about sports radio these days?
CT: First of all, I don’t spend that much time listening to sports radio. I think once you do it, if you spend very much time worrying about what other people are doing, I just don’t have the time and effort and energy. Other than listening to an interview here or there, or I put on Cowherd a lot because I think he’s so good, I’ll flip him on television and obviously people will send me segments and things to watch. I just don’t spend any time worrying about what anybody else is doing in sports talk radio at all. To me, I’m entirely focused on what I do, almost like tunnel vision. If I do a good job, then that’s my goal. Frankly, I really don’t care what anybody else does.
BN: When you deal with backlash over one of your comments, are you ever surprised by which ones people take exception to the most?
CT: It’s to the point now where it’s impossible to say anything on social media without backlash. Frankly, I don’t worry about it. My wife says it’s a unique part of my personality — I genuinely don’t care what people think about me. When I say that, I care what people who know me think. I care what my wife thinks. I care what my kids think. I care what people who work with me on a regular basis think, but it doesn’t really impact me what some stranger thinks about my opinion. It has zero impact on my day-to-day existence.
I think it’s almost impossible to not have backlash this day and age. I think much of it, frankly, is just total bullshit. I think it’s fake. My position has always been if you like something — watch, read, or listen to it. If you don’t, don’t. I don’t watch any television shows because I hate them. I don’t read any books because I hate them. I understand that there are certain people out there who do that. I just don’t have the time or the luxury to spend on paying attention to things I don’t like.
I spend most of the time evangelizing about television shows that I love. I don’t remember the last time that I talked about a television show outside the world of sports, and I was like, “Man, this show sucks.” I’ve got a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old. I’ve got whole seasons of television shows taped on my DVR that I haven’t been able to get to.
I don’t really worry too much about backlash at all. Maybe initially I did. Only in the sense of, “Oh my God, am I going to get fired?” But once I started my own business, and once I owned Outkick, I’m never going to fire me. So, I don’t really care what anybody says or what criticism I get because as long as I’m the boss, what are you gonna do to me?
BN: When someone is coming at you on social media, what do you consider off limits?
CT: I’ll block people immediately now if they say anything about my kids or my wife. To me it’s like the mafia. The mafia didn’t go after kids and wives. If you have an opinion with me you can say whatever you want. Pretty much, I don’t care. I might block you if you’re just blowing up my timeline. I think we’re up to almost 600,000 Twitter followers now. It’s hard to keep up with my mentions, frankly, and some days I just can’t. But if I look at something and I’m like, “Man, this guy has tweeted me 20 times in a row and he’s clearly an idiot,” I’ll just block him because I don’t like when people fill my timeline up. Outside of my timeline getting filled up, obviously wife and kids. To me it’s all business or family in general. That’s just beyond the pale to me. So, other than that, it just doesn’t even register with me.
BN: If you’re looking at it from your audience’s point of view and evaluating yourself, what would you say is the #1 strength you have that has helped you create a massive following?
CT: I think it’s probably honesty. Authenticity. I think we live in an inauthentic age. I think there are a lot of people who don’t always agree with my opinion, but I think the people who really like Outkick and like what I do appreciate the fact that I don’t pull any punches, and I tell people exactly what I think. I think that’s rare. I think people are so afraid of getting fired or so afraid of offending someone that they tiptoe up to their opinion, or they don’t really say what they think if they’re afraid it’s not a politically-correct opinion — it’s not a politically-correct answer.
What I see the most is people saying, “Thank God for saying what you actually believe, because I think that’s rare.” I would say that’s probably what resonates for the people who like me the most. That’s probably what they would say or resonates the most. Like I said, my goal is kind of an acronym context — it’s SOFA — smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think authenticity is so rare that it’s what registers the most.
BN: Is having the freedom to say something that somebody else might not what you love the most?
CT: When I started Outkick, my goal with the website was to say exactly what I wanted to say and not ever worry about what anybody thought, and have total creative freedom to write, say, and think whatever I want. That is what I value the most. Plenty of people are like, “ Oh, Clay Travis says what he says for money or attention” or whatever else. I’ve turned down money in exchange to maintain my creative freedom.
I would say there are certain people out there who say, “Clay Travis is a sellout.” To the extent that selling out means that you will do whatever it takes to make the most money possible, you can talk to every employer that I’ve ever worked with. Whether it’s FOX, whether it’s FOX Sports Radio, whether it was The Zone back in the day, whether it was FanHouse, Deadspin, CBS Sports, all of them. There have been times where I’ve been offered more money to do what I’m doing, but have to have more restraint on what I say, think, or do. I’ve turned down the more money in favor of creative freedom.
Certainly you can say it at FOX. Certainly you can say it at FOX Sports Radio. You can certainly say it at FanHouse back in the day, everywhere else. I kind of gravitated toward the space where I can say what I want to say, and write what I want to write. I haven’t chased money because I could’ve made more money just by kind of tamping down and tapering off some of the stuff that I say.
BN: How would you assess your time doing Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?
CT: I think it’s going really well. We developed a really substantial audience. They can speak to the numbers better than I can, but I think our numbers are up something like 84% over the last year. We’re approaching 300 AM/FM affiliates, got satellite radio, the podcast — I don’t know what the final numbers for January are going to be, but it’s going to be in the millions. It’ll be the biggest month that we’ve ever had. I kind of pay attention to that stuff along the way.
I know that we’re growing and growing pretty rapidly just based on what I see on Facebook and Periscope and whatnot. I’ve enjoyed it and think it’s been successful. Do I want to do it forever? No. If you told me in 15 years that I was still going to be getting up at 4:15, I don’t think I’d want to do that, but I like it now. And I love my producers, who work hard on the show, and my bosses. They’ve had my back completely. Don Martin and Scott Shapiro are the best bosses I’ve ever had.
BN: You’ve been involved in a few controversies. I don’t want to get too personal, but how does it work at home? How does your wife handle some of the things you’ve been in the middle of?
CT: I think she was more nervous before I quote unquote “made it” with Outkick. Now, I don’t want to say that I could never work again because I’m obviously not that wealthy, but if suddenly I didn’t have any jobs from anybody other than Outkick, I would be perfectly fine for the rest of my life.
I think the fear on her part is she would say certainly much of being married to me is living in a constant fear that I’m going to say or do something that provokes an outrageous and outlandish reaction. I think that fear kind of diminishes every day, week, and month going forward because at this point I think my audience has got my back. I control so much of the means of my own distribution that what are they going to do? Just stop reading my articles on Outkick? Stop reading my tweets? Stop watching my Periscope and Facebook shows?
People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me. It’s a 50/50 universe. And so, the idea that somebody out there would decide, “I want to shut down Clay Travis. He shouldn’t be able to say or write what he says,” I think fuels the people that are out there that support me. I don’t think those people are ever going to leave. I just don’t worry about it. I’ve got a big audience and I think that audience has my back and won’t leave me as long as I continue to be smart, original, funny, and authentic.
I can’t speak to my wife’s day-to-day opinion of me. Like any wife I’m sure she’s frustrated and upset with her husband on a regular basis, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of anything I’m doing in a professional context. Look, I’m a pretty good dad. I’m around my kids a lot. They don’t judge me for any of my public persona because they don’t listen to the show. The feedback that they get growing up in Nashville is phenomenal. We’ve got a huge fan base here. The kids, I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything bad to them. They’re like, “You’re dad’s Clay Travis. That’s awesome. I love the show. I love his site.” From their perspective, I think they genuinely believe everybody on Earth loves their dad because the negativity they’re not exposed to.
BN: Do you think that your style brings out more honesty and edge with the people around you on the show such as your producers, the board op, update guy and even your listeners?
CT: Well, I think honesty is rare. When you are honest, sometimes people are initially shocked by it, and they will follow it up with more honest responses than they would typically give. I think much of sports and sports talk radio is cliché now. To the extent you can break through the cliché with a direct honest opinion — I think that works to the benefit of the show whether it’s producing, callers or tweeters. I think all of that kind of melds together into a symphony of an outstanding way to spend the morning. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s ultimately for other people to judge, but that’s kind of my goal every morning.
BN: As far as approaching topics on a show, how do you decide what to focus on?
CT: I think I’m good at knowing what subjects people are going to care about. I think that comes from writing. I think that comes from being active on the internet. I think you can give me 10 subjects and I can say, “Okay, I can make these three interesting. And I have strong opinions on these three.” I don’t think it’s always the best subjects. I think it’s the subjects that you feel the strongest about.
For instance, as we’re having this conversation, I just finished the show a couple hours ago and this morning the baseball Hall of Fame vote came out. Some people will spend a lot of time talking about whether they think Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. I think the answer is yes, but I don’t find that to be a very interesting subject. Like okay, the answer is yes, and what then goes beyond that? I can talk about it, but I don’t particularly care. If I were in my car, I wouldn’t want to hear somebody talk about the same subject that has existed for what? 10 years? That’s been debated how should you consider steroids?
For the same reason I don’t do Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. There’s literally nothing that somebody can say about that subject interestingly until every year of LeBron James’ career is over. Then you can go back and say, “Okay, how does LeBron compare to Michael Jordan after 12 years” or whatever, but even in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing else going on, I don’t find that to be an interesting topic.
Now, I think much like with cable news, they have found out that you only want to talk about the three or four biggest stories in your mind in your world. That’s what I do. There are some people — we’ve got 12 segments in a three-hour show — there are some people who will come on with 10 or 12 different subjects and have their entire show kind of sketched out that way. I’ll rarely go more than four subjects total. And that’s because I think about if I’m in my car driving to work, do I want to hear Clay Travis talk about the three or four biggest stories in detail, or do I want to hear him touch on 12 stories? I want to hear the three or four biggest stories in detail, something that I care about on that day’s basis as opposed to just having somebody go all in on it.
The other thing is, we don’t have that many guests. A lot of people guest up. We don’t ever have a guest on Monday. There’s so much to react to during football season, I come on and I just talk. Usually, there’s a lot of stuff that happens over the weekend and on Mondays there are a lot of topics in general. It’s rare that we have more than two guests. In a three-hour show we might have a guest on for two segments. So that means we’ve got 10 segments to fill.
I’m not a big guest guy. I think people are tuning in because they want to hear what I have to say, or what people on the show have to say. I think they want to hear us talk about the biggest possible stories. That’s what I kind of work towards in the context of what the show structure should look like.
BN: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now if you’re not waking up at 4:15 in the morning and getting pulled over by cops?
CT: I don’t know what I’m doing in six months. 10 years from now to me is so far in advance. The easy way to answer that is 10 years ago I was a 28-year-old who was publishing his first book. 13 years ago I was graduating from law school and never could’ve projected where I am today, not necessarily having to do with the success of it at all, just what I’m doing. I don’t think that I ever would’ve predicted that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. So a decade from now? I’ve got no idea. I just don’t want to die. I hope I’m still alive in ten years because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think the next decade is going to be really fun.
Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?
How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.
But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?
As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.
Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.
Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.
I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.
What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.
As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.
Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.
But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.
Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.
There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.
I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.
Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not
“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”
There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City.
Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in.
A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.
“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”
Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show
“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”
He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.
“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”
For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.
“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”
“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”
So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN.
But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.
“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.
“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”
But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.
“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”
He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.
“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”
Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely.
Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task.
“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”
Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm.
Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success.
Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”
The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.
The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.
Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.
But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.
When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.
There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.
And the fans know it.
The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person.
In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night.
They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.
And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.
I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.
A star is born.
When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”
And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.
Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.
But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.
“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”
He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.
“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”
But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.
“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.
And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.
Resonating with Boston
When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.
It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said.
While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time.
Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.
“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”
But there just may be something else at play.
“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”
The Family Dynamic
Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.
But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?
“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”
“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”
At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?
“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”
Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.