I’d describe George Wrighster as a man that has controlled strength. He’s motivated by obstacles and driven by naysayers, but it isn’t written all over his face.
It’s a bit like Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers’ quarterback wasn’t visibly emotional when he slid to the 24th overall pick in 2005, or when his team drafted Jordan Love to possibly take his spot. Best believe Rodgers hasn’t forgotten about being slighted though. I think George is similar. The former NFL tight end is a competitor, but he might not let you see that your doubts ticked him off. He’ll just get back to work and grind so that one day you are eating your words.
George has achieved a lot in sports radio within a relatively short period of time. He can be heard on two national platforms — FOX Sports Radio and SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. His brand new show on Sirius began two short months ago. The Oregon grad shares some interesting thoughts about not being pigeonholed as a former athlete and also what it’s like to help change the landscape in a mostly white dominated industry.
I’ve known plenty of things about George, like how he rages against heavy metal music and trashes Velveeta cheese. Hey, we can’t all be perfect. But the Oregon grad touches on many things that aren’t common knowledge. George shares a wise thought about building a community. He unveils what got him listening to sports radio in the first place when he never listened during his playing days. George talks about the show that freaked him out the most and also shares a list of his strong goals. Makes sense though. It’s his controlled strength at work again. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How’s everything going with the new gig at Sirius?
George Wrighster: It’s going really good. I got a chance to do a couple of special projects too. I did an MLK special with Kirk Morrison and some stuff with the college football national championship. I hosted some other shows on the network. It’s cool getting more opportunities and more reps, trying to get better.
BN: What’s the main goal you try to accomplish when doing shows, especially your new one?
GW: I want people to feel educated and entertained when they listen to the show. It’s important to me that people also feel like this is a place where they can get the truth and honesty and not just shtick. As you know, it’s easy to just pump out hot takes. But when it’s actually something that you believe and you can support it with some stats and data or personal experience that makes it believable. I think that’s the best thing that you can do. We all see sometimes where people say things and you’re like there’s no way this dude believes that. He’s just saying it because it’s going to get people riled up.
I try to talk about stories in a different way that people normally may not. I try to approach it from the human side of things and not get too far deep in the weeds on the X’s and O’s, but kind of how athletes are real people; how these things impact their sport and their decisions. We also talk a little politics on the show — how politics and business intersect sports in certain aspects too. We’re not debating propositions. No, we’re not doing all that, but we are at that intersection where sports does intersect with politics and business. We do go there.
BN: What do you remember most about your first show on Sirius?
GW: It’s funny because as many shows as I’ve done — solo, with other people, all of that — I remember the first night that the light came on and it was just me. I was nervous that entire day, dude. I went walking around the neighborhood because I would take the baby on a walk every day. I was nervous that whole day. I was like oh my God, what if when the light comes on, I can’t say anything? Nothing comes out?
It’s funny to think about because you’ve done it so many times, but the fact that it was all on me, it was my show, solo, it just hit me like, dude, I’m responsible for this whole ship. But the good part is, I was like if the ship sinks, if the car crashes, it’s going to be because I gave it everything that I had and it just didn’t work. It’s not going to be because I let somebody else control my future.
BN: What happened once you cracked the mic that first night?
GW: Every show has different clocks, how long each segment is and all of that. Our first segment for the opening monologue is between 15 and 22 minutes max. It was funny because that first 20 minutes, or however long I went, it felt like it was two hours long. It was crazy to me because I record my podcast sometimes for 30 minutes straight with nobody talking to me. It’s just me talking to the camera because I do it on a live stream, nobody responding, not taking comments, so it was just funny that it felt so long when I had to do it all by myself. But now it breezes by.
BN: How did that opportunity come about for you at Sirius?
GW: This was years in the making. This is where you say relationships matter and keep banging on the door and then one day it might open. Back in 2014 I finally got into the NFL’s broadcast boot camp. That’s where former and current NFL players can go get media training and get in front of executives. There are executives and actual decision makers from FOX, from ESPN, CBS, a bunch of places, and former athletes who have made it. You get a lot of workshops and they teach you how to interview. They expose you to TV and radio because a lot of times people don’t know which lane they want to be in or if they truly want to be in it. So you get big exposure.
When I got back from it one of the people that I met there was Steve Cohen. Not the Mets’ Steve Cohen, but the Steve Cohen who, at that point in time he may have been the program director or Senior Vice President over at Sirius. I just followed up with him. Every six months, four months I’d shoot him an email telling him what I was doing, letting him know I was available if anything came up.
Fast forward about four months ago, I got an email from Steve Cohen. He was like yo, we may have an opening over at Sirius. What are you doing now? That was weird because I hadn’t emailed Steve in a few months, but I was going to email him soon. I keep these reminders to email all of these people. All of these times he was always like yo George, I’ll keep you on the radar if anything comes up. He sent that e-mail, followed up, and then I tested. Apparently I did pretty well. They offered me the job and here we are.
BN: Was the test a demo or a fill-in show?
GW: It was a demo because they do things a little bit different over at Sirius. If you’re not under contract with them or don’t have an agreement with them, doing an on-air demo there doesn’t happen, I don’t believe. We did it just like an actual show. We produced an actual show except for it was only an hour and a half long. We took breaks; so I had to talk to commercial break and interview guests. And yeah, we did it like a mock show.
BN: What was it about sports radio where you said you know what, this is the road I want to go down?
GW: I’ve done TV, and I do want to do more TV as well, but radio allows you to communicate with people in a different way. In TV you’re speaking in sound bites a lot more. You don’t get a chance to expound, not as much storytelling. With radio you get a chance to build an audience and communicate with them. They become part of your family, part of building a community.
I saw that with a guy out here in LA named Fred Roggin. Fred just builds a community with his family. It’s the same thing with Petros Papadakis on his show Petros and Money. They build a community and the people are so invested. I like that. The idea that you don’t just build a community for that station; you build your community. So when you do move locations or you do change because it’s business — sometimes contract disputes happen, sometimes companies are bought and sold or whatever — then your audience is portable because that’s your family.
BN: When you talk about community, it makes me think about race. Sports radio is a very white dominated industry. As a black host, do you have that at the forefront of your mind that if you do a good job, it might open the door for others?
GW: Absolutely. I look at this as a two-fold thing. Yes there is a racial element and I’ll talk about that next, but the first thing is as a former athlete, they will pigeonhole you as just the sport that you played. That’s the first thing. I started writing to make sure that didn’t happen. Writing on other sports, commenting on other sports and all of that.
As an athlete I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into just football, and also pigeonholed just as an analyst. When you can host the show and be an analyst it opens up more doors for you. So now I don’t have to sit in the two chair. I can sit in the one chair also. It just gives you more diversity. As a former athlete, opening up doors as being a solo host, that’s hard to do.
But as far as a host of color, especially those who sit in a single chair, that’s tough. There aren’t a lot. There are a lot more who do two-man shows, and mind you they do a great job, but I think there is something to be said about the lack of diversity. Colin Cowherd obviously is one of the best to ever do it. So are Dan Patrick and Jim Rome. My goal is to ascend to that level the way some little kid can look at me and say oh wow; I can do this if I want to.
BN: I interviewed LaVar Arrington. He called it having a babysitter when the radio guy is in the one seat and the former athlete is in the two seat. His thought was hey man; two athletes can have a good show too. What are your thoughts on how the former athlete is typically paired with the radio guy?
GW: Yeah, he’s right. LaVar is right when he says that it’s like the babysitter, or the hall monitor where that person has to be the quote-unquote adult in the room. Truthfully it’s literally about the mechanics — tossing to break, watching the clock, understanding how to progress a story, how to manage callers — all the mechanics. That was something that I always pressed. Even when we started doing the show on FOX, I was like yo, I want to have more responsibility on the show. I think that once people see that you want that responsibility, and that you actually will take it seriously, and that you’ll go practice it when nobody’s listening, and then when you get the opportunity you do a good job at it, then they say oh okay, let’s throw him a bone.
Eventually something bad happens. I remember one day on FOX during the Sunday show I do now with Dan Beyer, something happened to Dan’s mic or it was a power issue or something, and he was out. I had to do it for a couple of segments and it was like, oh okay, cool, so now we know that he can do this. The more and more that you do it, then people can believe and trust because the thing that they want the most is to know that you’re not going to burn the house down. That it’s not like Home Alone where you’re going to come back and the house is ransacked or Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead where you’re going to have a party. No, you’re just going to go in there, live life like normal, put out a good show that’s entertaining, and everything will be fine.
BN: Did you listen to sports radio much during your playing days?
GW: Absolutely not. No. Not at all. The thing that started getting me to listen to sports radio was Marcellus Wiley because I had played with him. We were friends, and I just wanted to support him. Then I realized, good God, I love sports radio.
My kids sometimes get annoyed, they’re like dad, do we have to listen to talk radio today? They already know that if it’s 12 o’clock here at home, I’m probably listening to Finebaum. I don’t know why I like Finebaum so much especially during college football season. Schein On Sports. I watch Colin. I like Skip and Shannon. I tune in to Steven A. sometimes. I appreciate how much work they really put in. Yeah it’s easier when you have an army of writers and staff and researchers, but you still have to go out there and deliver it.
BN: Is there anything else about sports radio in general beyond hot takes that turns you off for you when you listen?
GW: I usually only listen to people that I like. The only thing that makes me change the dial now is if it’s a topic that I don’t want to hear about, or I’ve felt like I’ve heard too many times. I’ll turn the dial, but I like this person, so I’ll be back. It’s just I’m tired of you today. I love my kids but some days I want to go to dinner all by myself, or with my wife and leave them at home. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but I need a break.
BN: Who have you learned the most from in sports radio?
GW: Dude, easy answer, this guy named Brett Winterble who I hosted my first show with on The Beast 980 here in LA. Brett had been a producer for conservative talk radio but he was a huge sports fan. He was the adult in the room.
Brett actually now has a huge talk show in North Carolina. He just filled in for Rush Limbaugh and had like the highest ratings for any fill-in there. Brett literally had been through the grinder of ascending in this business. We had a producer that was absentee at best. Brett taught me how to produce a show, how to cut sound, how to come up with content. He taught me things that if I were in a normal situation with a producer and all that stuff, they would have done a lot of that work already, so I wouldn’t have learned how to do it as quickly. It would have taken me years to learn something I learned in eight months because it was a crash course. It was either fail or do it.
Brett was just the consummate professional, freaking hard working, just a grinder. He’s just a smart guy too. He showed me the ropes in this business. He gave me a lot of valuable tools and experiences from his life that I wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten. I owe a lot of credit to Brett.
BN: You’ve had a number of partners. Have you taken elements that you think work from those other hosts and molded it to your own style at all?
GW: I would say yes. From Brett I learned that this was his livelihood. He was always the adult in the room. He was always going to make the right decision for the show. To make sure that things did not go off the rails. I took that from Brett.
Oh, I forgot somebody else I learned a lot from was Petros. Petros is just Petros. I think that a lot of times when people get into this business — and I fell victim to it too — of I have to be radio guy. I have to be TV guy when the thing that people really connect with the most is you being you. That’s what Petros showed me was just be you. You don’t have to be anybody else; just be the best George that you can possibly be. I don’t know if there’s anybody more themselves than Petros.
BN: Goals. Is there anything specifically that you want to accomplish in sports radio or beyond?
GW: Yes. I would like to have a simulcast like Colin does. Be number one on the Talkers 100. What that would mean for me, it would be a sense of accomplishment in my second career doing something that wasn’t so physical like sports. Doing something that was foreign, working at it, and then reaching that goal.
I do want to have a simulcast with radio and TV at the same time. But my ultimate goal, if I could be doing either my radio show or a podcast version of it like Joe Rogan does, while hosting a show on the Food Network and College GameDay on the weekends, I would be the happiest person in the whole world.
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.