It’s almost time for this year’s BSM Summit (February 21-22). While looking at the impressive list of guests that will be taking part in the event, I wondered what I didn’t know about these people. What are some of the things that make them tick? What are they passionate about? What’s something unique about them?
I asked a number of people associated with the event to provide some unique facts about themselves that might not be commonly known. My thought is that although we recognize these names based on job titles, we might not know something interesting about who they are as people. It’s safe to say the results did not disappoint.
The unique assortment of fun facts range from scholarly and profound, to eclectic and hilarious. Both ends of the spectrum are enjoyable and very memorable. What stands out to me is that there is much more to these people than what happens inside the four walls at work. I hope you enjoy this piece and learn some fun details about this talented group.
Joe Fortenbaugh – 95.7 The Game, San Francisco
I’m a huge nerd. I focus on process rather than result, which is one of the reasons why I love to do research. And I’m not just talking about sports and sports betting research, I’m talking about whatever strikes me as interesting. Right now, I’m knees deep in researching the Cuban Missile Crisis and French wines.
Don’t ask me why my brain functions the way that it does, because I don’t have a good answer. I just so happen to stumble into something that I find interesting and then I relentlessly immerse myself in that subject matter. Recent research projects include stoicism and the decision-making process. Like I alluded to, I have no idea why my brain chooses to function in the manner in which it does.
Ramona Shelburne – ESPN
One thing that most people don’t know about me was that I was very political growing up. When most kids dressed up as princesses or their favorite movie character for Halloween, I dressed up as George Bush or Gorbachev! I wanted nothing more than to be CJ Cregg from the West Wing. I was a funny little kid.
Clay Travis – FOX Sports Radio
I went to Civil War sleepaway camp at Gettysburg College in high school. Yes, I really am a big history nerd.
Ryan Hatch – Arizona Sports 98.7
When I was 16 years old, I put together an interview reel with famous coaches and players on a cheap tape recorder from Radio Shack and used it to get my foot in the door for an internship at the first sports radio station in Salt Lake City. It took more than three months to get the interviews scheduled and another three months to eventually convince them to break their intern policy and give a high school kid a chance. I’m also a golf junky and an avid reader. My favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
Colin Cowherd – FOX Sports Radio / FOX Sports 1
I’ve lived in six states (Nevada, California, Oregon, Connecticut, Florida, Washington). I’m one of the very few sportscasters to have lived in all four corners of the country. I’ve also been to 49 of the 50 US states. The only state I haven’t visited is South Carolina. I don’t have plans as of now to see it.
Don Martin – FOX Sports Radio
I am an avid international traveler and history buff. I have traveled to six of the seven continents of the world (Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America). The only one left is Antarctica. As Program Director of 850 KOA in Denver we won five consecutive Station of the Year Awards and two Marconi Awards!
Jim Graci – 93.7 The Fan, Pittsburgh
Radio has afforded me many ancillary opportunities. I was thrilled to have done public address announcing in the NBA for 14 seasons, four with the Atlanta Hawks and two stints with the Seattle SuperSonics totaling 10 seasons.
It was during that first stint with the Sonics that I was asked to be in an episode of the television show “Frasier”. I played both the public address and broadcast announcer for an episode in season three, “Head Games”. I had multiple lines of dialogue, received guest star status, but in typical radio fashion, was not on camera. It was just my voice.
Jeff Rickard – 1070 / 107.5 The Fan, Indianapolis
I have either raced or ridden my bike over seven of the 10 highest, paved mountain peaks in the United States including Trail Ridge Road, Mt. Evans and Mt. Haleakalā.
I don’t like hot dogs or mustard and I’m allergic to shellfish, but I could eat great Italian or Mexican food forever (specifically fettuccine Alfredo). Lucky Charms is a frequent middle of the night meal, but Captain Crunch will do in a pinch.
The Denver Broncos are my favorite team in all of sports but I hate the “new” helmets and logo. John Elway the general manager makes me miss John Elway the quarterback.
Dan Zampillo – ESPN LA 710
I love hockey! I know it’s not the biggest radio sport in most markets, but I think it is an incredible sport. Plus, I’ve gotten to hold the Stanley Cup multiple times.
I really enjoy American history, especially the Civil War and presidential elections. My favorite food is deep-dish pizza (I know, cliché Chicago, but it is the best). I have kids, so I have no hobbies anymore. My favorite movie is The Bridge in the River Kwai. My favorite TV shows are The Americans, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and Atlanta.
My first sports memory was watching Italy winning the 1982 World Cup with my Italian grandfather. I have watched the final out of the Cubs World Series win no less than 168 times on YouTube. One of my sports goals is to witness a no-hitter in person. The night of Justin Verlander’s first no-hitter, I gave away tickets so I could go on a date with a girl. Needless to say, I missed my best chance, and the date was awful. Double whammy.
Eric Johnson – 97.5 The Fanatic, Philadelphia
I like to do a lot of running and have participated in 10-mile runs and 1/2 marathons. I’m currently training for “The Seneca7,” which is a 77-mile, seven-person relay race around Seneca Lake in New York.
Steve Mason – ESPN LA 710
I’m known for my broadcasting career, but for 25 years, I owned movie theaters in Southern California. I owned theaters in Hawthorne, Azusa and at USC. My most recent theater was Cinemas Palme d’Or in Palm Desert, CA.
While operating in Palm Desert, partner Bryan Cranston and I were victims of a practice known as circuit dealing by Cinemark Theaters. Essentially, Cinemark “blocked” the Palme d’Or from playing first run film. After 13 years of litigation, in April of 2017, the company won a major antitrust lawsuit in a jury trial against Cinemark. That marked the end of my movie theater operator days.
Scott Shapiro – FOX Sports Radio
One big interest of mine, which is very rare for folks as into sports as I am, is my interest in Broadway. And when I see shows I like, I can’t get enough. I’ve seen Hamilton let’s just say north of five times. I really shouldn’t share the actual number of times I’ve seen it since my credibility and level of sanity will be significantly questioned. I’ve also seen shows such as Les Mis, Phantom, Rent, and Jersey Boys more than four times each as well.
Steve Wyche – NFL Network
I’m a big wine enthusiast. Wine is not made to be tasted. It is made be enjoyed. Also, a huge interest of mine is to one day possibly write a book about airport and airplane behavior. Why do some people use speaker mode to have a conversation in the seating area, then berate the gate agent for not being upgraded despite having platinum status, then put their bare feet on the bulkhead wall before clipping their nails at 30,000 feet?
Julie Stewart-Binks – ESPN LA 710
I was in a unique situation this year, which afforded me an opportunity to explore other interests outside of sports. I decided to pursue stand-up comedy. It’s not something I ever thought I would do, but having been immersed in improv comedy at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York this year, and having experience in performance through TV and radio, I thought this might be a fun extra curricular. I’m also somewhat of an adrenaline junkie.
I’ve become extremely interested in the different ways of writing and performing to elicit and evoke emotions — in some ways it’s a formula, in others it’s completely random. I’ve never been challenged both mentally and physically like I have been doing stand-up. It’s really the most vulnerable thing you could possibly do. But there is no greater high than making a room of strangers laugh. You feel like the Incredible Hulk, and all you want is the next laugh. It’s addictive.
Demetri Ravanos – Barrett Sports Media
I have a film degree from the University of Alabama, which is like having a degree in tropical studies from the University of Alaska. My only two true sports loves are ‘Bama and the Boston Celtics. I was a freshman when Shaun Alexander was a senior, so he will always be my favorite player. Before I made the switch to sports, I worked exclusively in rock radio for 18 years. I used to write and host a podcast about the Disney theme parks.
When I was 11, I was at a basketball camp at the University of South Alabama where Charles Barkley showed up for a day and did a Q&A. I saw him tell another 11-year-old to “quit being a pain in the ass.” I own as many shirts with the Golden Girls on them as I do the Alabama logo. My favorite episode of the Golden Girls is the one where Blanche dreams her husband faked his death.
Amanda Gifford – ESPN
I am a proud graduate of Penn State where I have a bachelor’s of journalism degree and also a bachelor’s of science in elementary education. I started working in radio when I was 16 years old at a very small station in upstate NY where I did everything — morning news in the summer, commercial voice overs, ran the board for NASCAR races…everything…but when I went to college I thought I wanted a “normal” schedule for my career.
Always having a love for working with kids, I started in college as an education major. About halfway through my sophomore year I got some sense in my head and decided I really wanted to work in sports. I was too far in to my education classes to just change majors, so I added the journalism major and graduated with both degrees in 4 ½ years. I have never used my teaching degree because I came to ESPN right after college, but it is always a good backup plan!
Brian Long – XTRA Sports 1360, San Diego
I am originally from Kansas City so I am cursed with being a long-suffering Chiefs fan. As a teenager I began playing the drums and ultimately dreamed of being a professional musician. However, I figured out rather quickly there are “real musicians,” then there was me. I moved to Palm Springs in 1997 and took up playing golf. Today, I play the drums like a golfer and golf like a drummer.
Traug Keller – ESPN
I have another job — been chairman of Mustard Seed for over a decade now. It’s near and dear to my heart, started by a priest friend of mine from Boston College. You can get a sense of the org at mustardseed.com.
John Ireland – ESPN LA 710
I can sing any song from The Sound of Music (either the male or female part). I can name at least one dive restaurant in any US major city, from Boston to San Diego. I’m convinced that the all-time Lakers team could beat any All-Star team you could assemble from all of the other 29 teams combined. Magic and Kobe at guards, Kareem at center, Elgin Baylor and LeBron at forwards. The bench would include Wilt Chamberlin, Shaq, Jerry West, James Worthy, Karl Malone, Gail Goodrich, Jamaal Wilkes and Bob McAdoo.
Brian Musburger – VSiN
I have been the Underwater Camera Assistant for the Ironman World Championships for the last 12 years. I scuba dive beneath the starting line for the greatest endurance race in sports every year in Kona, Hawaii.
Bruce Gilbert – Cumulus Media / Westwood One
It is becoming more and more common that people know that Mike Thomas is my real blood brother, but what a lot of people don’t know is that we both have an older sister, Becky, that has been an on-air talent for over 20 years on small market stations in Central Illinois.
Becky did mornings on 101 Country, WHPO for over 20 years. She then took some time off before becoming the PM Drive talent at Classic Hits 95.9 WIQI in Watseka, IL, which is her current position. Becky is the oldest sibling in our family and she completes the trifecta for my father. My dad was in the radio business and all three of his kids have made it their career.
Becky is a true entertainer in every sense of the word. She has a HUGE personality, a tremendous sense of humor and — most importantly — she gives a damn about EVERY listener that has ever tuned into her show. She really cares about people and has raised millions of dollars through her show for St. Jude and other great charitable organizations.
Our Thanksgiving dinners have often been spent talking promotions and sales packages, much to our mother’s chagrin.
Phil Mackey – SKOR North, Minneapolis
Back in 2009, I co-founded what’s now the Mid-States Poker Tour, and remain a major supporter and fan of the poker industry. My favorite starting hand in Texas Hold ‘Em is Jack-10 suited.
Tony Bruno – The Tony Bruno Show
When I’m not watching sports, my guilty pleasure shows are on Science Channel and watching people build cabins in rain and snow in Alaska while complaining about how much the weather sucks in Alaska. Home improvement is my strength, but only on my home, not busting up kitchen cabinets in some stranger’s joint.
Justin Craig – ESPN
So in thinking about what makes me, me would be my recent infatuation with running. In the past few years I’ve racked up almost a dozen half marathons and completed my first NY marathon. Why? Great question. Although since I’ve been doing them, I’ve fallen in love with pushing myself to train for something, see it through, aiming to increase my personal bests and more importantly…to live longer.
Selfishly, I look better in pictures actually having a neck back again. Even more rewarding is being able to run with two of my best friends, even though we aren’t in the same cities, we continue to plan on runs that we can see each other at, therefore pushing the training to a different level. Throw in the added benefit of just this past fall when my son and nephew asked me if I would run a 5K with them, and the reward is through the roof.
(Oh yeah, and it’s a great chance to catch up on listening to shows and podcasts. Seriously, I listened to a live stream of the network when I was running the full marathon! Who knew cursing out bad transitions and sloppy teases could be so motivating!)
Adam Klug – 97.3 The Fan, San Diego
In the last 9 years, I’ve lived and worked in five different states: Georgia, Connecticut, California, New Jersey and New York. I have made four long-distance moves since 2010: from Georgia to Connecticut in 2010. From Connecticut to California in 2012. From California to New Jersey (lived in New Jersey, worked in New York) in 2014. From New Jersey to California in 2018. My wife has made each move with me. Both of my kids were born in New Jersey and made the most recent move to San Diego.
Mike Thomas – 98.5 The Sports Hub, Boston
At a Mötley Crüe after party in Dayton, Ohio…I noticed Tommy Lee was being very affectionate with Carmen Electra (who is from Cincinnati). Tommy was still with Pamela Anderson at the time. It wasn’t long after the sex tape came out. I went on our rock morning show in Dayton the next day and talked about what was happening. It went national — (not viral, that wasn’t a thing back then). Rick Dees called me and had me come on his show for “Dees Sleaze”. I ended up in the National Enquirer the next week!
Jorge Sedano – ESPN LA 710
At least 3-4 times a week, I take an hour to just walk on the beach — just good quiet time. After 40, I’ve realized I can no longer play pick-up basketball. I feel like an old loser. My favorite shows are The Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Beyond the entertainment, I marvel at the formats and execution of the shows. My favorite sports movie is Major League. I’m forever a sucker for good pizza and a bottle of wine. It’s why I’ll never achieve my goal of a two-pack. (I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell at a four- or six-pack.)
Mitch Rosen – 670 The Score, Chicago
My first full-time job was an overnight producer at WGN Radio in Chicago for a legendary host, Eddie Schwartz. I worked 12am-5am. Best job I ever had as I learned how to book, manage high-ego talent, and work with all departments. I was traded with Eddie from WGN to the legendary LOOP. It was the best career move I ever made. I have been a self-proclaimed radio geek since 7th grade and followed my dream since then. A lot of people are not aware that I worked at WTKU for its launch and was part of the team that hired RuPaul to do mornings. The station went from worst to first in one book. I’m also very involved with Special Olympics Chicago and serve on the board of directors.
Brian Noe – NBC Sports Northwest, Rip City Radio, Portland / FOX Sports Radio
Might as well include myself, right? I’ve played guitar for half of my life. I used to play in a heavy metal band in LA and have performed at the Whiskey. Although metal is my favorite, my minor in college was classical guitar. I played a handful of classical pieces during my sister’s wedding. When a classical piece ended too soon while playing in my good friend J’s wedding, I played the middle part of “To Live Is To Die” by Metallica. It worked well in a pinch.
One of the most random facts about me is that I keep a stuffed animal in my computer bag when doing radio shows. It’s a little bear wearing a karate outfit that was a family gift named Tae-Kwon-Noe. I tossed him in my bag many years ago so I didn’t feel alone while performing away from home. That sound you hear is my street cred grinding to a screeching halt, but I really don’t care. That’s my little homie and he reminds me of my family who I love dearly.
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.