If there’s one game every sports radio host hates to play, it’s the waiting game. Sitting around and waiting for news on your next hosting gig can be the most stressful feeling a host can go through. Not only can it be agonizing, but it can also test your patience.
Matt Spiegel is one of the many in sports radio playing the waiting game. What he’s waiting on is one of the best host openings the industry has seen in several years.
If you’ve been paying attention recently to The Score in Chicago, you’ve noticed that program director Mitch Rosen is exploring any and all hosting options to work alongside Danny Parkins in afternoon drive. In such a competitive time slot in a top market, Rosen has done a marvelous job of using all the resources available to find the best long-term fit for the station.
Spiegel is right in the thick of the search. That’s not surprising, given that he’s been a full-time host at the station before, most recently with Parkins, in mid-days, before the show was suddenly and surprisingly cut in 2018.
Through the entire process over the past two months, Spiegel has been an incredible asset to The Score. When he’s been asked to fill-in, he’s done exactly that, sometimes even on short notice. When he’s been asked to join the show as a guest when big Cubs or White Sox breaking news took place, he’s done that too, even if it meant joining a show where someone else was auditioning for the host seat he’s competing for. None of this is surprising to those who know Spiegel, but full-time employee or not, one of the reasons Rosen has been able to go thru a lengthy process is because of the consistent contributions he receives from Spiegel.
“I’m grateful to be working,” said Spiegel. “There’s a lot of people, a lot of really good people that aren’t working. Even during this process, if I end up doing three shifts a week or four shifts a week, on whatever time slot, I’m in a phenomenal market at a great station, talking about fascinating sports and incredible teams in a compelling year. Hey man, it could be a helluva lot worse.”
Spiegel is proof that you can’t keep a good host down. He just so happens to be a damn good one. When he was let go as a full-time host at The Score in 2018, Spiegel could have easily left the market and landed on his feet. But he didn’t. Instead, he stayed in Chicago and continued to write for the station, host weekend shows and pick up any fill-in shifts he could. But why?
“Because The Score is in my blood,” Spiegel said. “And because Chicago is in my blood. I did have options in some other markets but I’m also a singer in an active band. I also have a child here. There’s a lot of things to consider. I’ve lived and worked in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Chicago is the best. It just is. It’s passionate and it feels small but it has everything that big cities do. It’s livable, it’s authentic, there’s just nothing like it, man.”
Throughout the auditioning process it’s tough to say if Spiegel has had an advantage over every other host that’s auditioned for the same role. Aside from Carrington Harrison, he’s had more on-air time with Parkins than any other candidate. Those prior reps allowed the two men to form chemistry, something that’s hard to build on the fly for someone stepping in for a handful of shows.
On the other hand, no matter how good you think Spiegel and Parkins are on the air together, at least one suit found it fit to discontinue their regular show. So it creates a few questions. Do you go through the auditioning process looking for a different sound? Or do you bring back a pairing that the audience remembers and enjoyed but lost a connection to as a result of an executive decision?
“It’s a blend of that,” Spiegel said. “Undeniably there was great stuff that was cut off right in the middle. There is something to be said for picking up where we left off, but there also has to be new stuff that’s fresh. There have been some moments during the audition process where it’s like, ‘what else can we do’? How can we make things different and take it further? We also though have to follow the news of the day and be in the moment.”
I can’t imagine going through an audition process where you’re on the air, and then the next day, someone else is in the same seat vying for the same job. In that situation, there’s no way to help yourself from listening to the shows you’re not on to gauge whether you think the next host is better than you. That’s human nature. But Spiegel listens in when he’s not on for other reasons and it proves why he’s such a pro.
“What’s often the case is that I know I’m in two or even three days later, so I need to listen and want to listen for continuity sake,” Spiegel said. “Danny and I may have started a bit on a Monday, that carries on through the week and then I’m back there on a Friday and I need to know what kind of life that bit has had during the course of the week. So I’m listening. There’s often times where baseball news broke and I was a guest. I was happy to be a part of the show in those ways. I try not to spend too much energy dissecting how things sound and what some of the other options are because I can only control what I can control. That part is difficult, that’s for sure. I just try to make my work great and be super present.”
What’s a little ironic is that Spiegel is vying for the same chair that Dan McNeil used to occupy. Spiegel was McNeil’s intern in 1994 and later became his co-host. The two have a long history together and there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings over Matt pursuing Dan’s old gig.
“We’ve talked a couple of times and he was very kind and supportive,” said Spiegel. “I’m kind and supportive of him too. I was his intern in 1994 so we go way back. There’s been a lot of times in this business where Dan’s been good to me.”
Though Spiegel has done an admirable job of being a utility player in Rosen’s daily lineup card at The Score, what Parkins has done is pretty special, too. During the madness that is football season, Parkins lost his co-host and then was asked to do shows with several different people, in hopes of finding a new partner, all while having to deliver results against stiff competition. There’s no continuity for a show when going thru a hosting search, but Parkins has handled it like a champ.
“I know it’s a very challenging place for him to be in, trying out all of these different things,” Spiegel said. “I asked him last week on the air if he topped my record. I called it the ‘summer of indecision’, when Dan McNeil was trying to figure out whether he wanted to come back or not in 2015. I worked with 11 different people in 10 weeks while we waited to find out if McNeil was coming back. I can honestly say that I think any one of them would’ve worked. I take pride in that and I enjoy it. But it’s a tough ask during football season.”
It’s easy to appreciate Rosen for not leaving any stone unturned in his search for a new host. For those waiting on the decision, it’s much tougher. Regardless of how long it takes, Rosen will find a great fit for The Score. For guys in Spiegel’s position, it’s tough having to play the waiting game, but any sports radio pro should respect how Rosen has handled the process.
“I think Mitch is enjoying the opportunity to check out lots of options, both diverse and creative,” Spiegel said. “It’s a rare opportunity for him to experiment while looking to fill a big time slot in a big market. I completely understand that he doesn’t want to miss anything and he wants to take some chances. If I were him I think I’d do the same thing.”
Until the decision is made, Spiegel will continue with what’s in his blood, which is being the ultimate team player for The Score. Whether or not he’ll be chosen as the next afternoon drive co-host is still to be decided, but there’s no doubt, regardless of the decision, he’ll always be loyal to the brand.
If only every radio building could have a Matt Spiegel in it.
“I’m trying to be patient,” Spiegel said. “I try not to put too much on the plate of my wife, who’s working a regular job. I’m doing everything you have to do to make sure the house is clean when she comes home. (Laughs). Seriously, that’s my biggest gig and I have no problem with that right now.”