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David Kaplan Has a Passion For the Grind

“I was taught a long time ago, act like you’ve been there before, and if they open the door a crack, you kick that son of a bitch in. That’s it.”

Brian Noe



David Kaplan
Courtesy: Chicago Sun Times

There are two central themes to David Kaplan – both his life and his broadcasting career. The guy is an absolute bulldog, and he has unrelenting passion for the city of Chicago and the teams he grew up loving. That’s who he is.

Kaplan clawed his way to become an assistant basketball coach at Northern Illinois in his early twenties. That led to him being a scout for the Indiana Pacers and Seattle SuperSonics. There aren’t many hosts that have done full-time radio for 30 years and also coached college hoops and scouted for NBA teams. Many people would have to live two, maybe even three lives to check both boxes.

Toss in the fact that Kaplan wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune for two years, and also completed 25 seasons as the host of Chicago Cubs pre and postgame whether it was radio or TV. I think we’re up to at least four lifetimes by now. Kaplan currently hosts a morning show on ESPN 1000 with Jonathan Hood. He also completed his 4th annual Walk As One Chicago last week to benefit Bernie’s Book Bank. Moderation is for cowards.

Kap tells a hilarious story about how he broke in to TV. It’s one of my favorite broadcasting stories ever. He also talks about the close relationship he had with his late mother, and shares an epic story of sweating out Game 7 of the 2016 World Series before he went on the air to recap the craziness. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: How do you like being on mornings now that you’re with JHood?

David Kaplan: I love being on mornings. I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing people. [Tom] Waddle and I did 10 years together at WGN. I worked with David Haugh, who actually works mornings now on the Score. I loved working with both those guys. Jonathan and I though have something super special that we’ve created. I always wanted to do mornings. I got into radio and that first day I had to do morning drive on WGN.

I had to do the sports for the late Bob Collins. This guy had been No. 1 for 52 straight ratings periods. He was the biggest of the big in the history of Chicago. I did the sports and it was the most listened to show in Chicago. I would call my mom after every game, show, TV, radio, I mean every day. My dad died 23 years ago, so my brother and I would always check in on my mom. She was my biggest fan and my biggest sounding board. She’d be like, I didn’t like the suit you wore today, or I loved this. We had this special relationship.

I remember the first time I did mornings, I’m like who would want to get up at 3:30, 4 o’clock in the morning? My mom said, don’t ever say that again. Mornings is the big leagues. If you ever get to do mornings, that means you’ve made it. In this market, are you kidding? Everybody listens to the radio in the morning. And I never forgot that. When I got this opportunity, Mike Thomas said, what do you think about going to mornings? In, sign me up. I always was a morning person after that. I love the energy of the morning and driving in and seeing the skyline of my hometown of this amazing sports city.

BN: At one point in your career you did a daily TV show, a daily radio show, you wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune, and you did the Cubs pre and postgame shows all at the same time. What was that like for you juggling all of those things?

DK: It was craziness. You get up in the morning, and back then I wasn’t doing the morning show, my show was a little later in the day. So I’d go work out and then get to the radio station, and then go from the radio station to do the TV show Sports Talk Live. When I got married to my wife, she was all-in. My wife gets who I am and what I do. I always tell my kids, the single most important decision you make is who your partner is because here it is on Tuesday night. I’m going to do two reKAPs on my YouTube channel. I left the house this morning at quarter to five. It’s sports non-stop.

We had dinner, the games are on. She’s all-in. I can’t stress to you enough that my wife, Mindy, has been a huge key to my life. She understands what this business is all about and she supports the schedule, the wacky happenings and me 100%. My wife’s father was a coach. My wife is an executive with Lou Malnati’s Pizza.

Our column was called “Around Town.” I did it with Fred Mitchell, Hall of Fame writer. The phone would ring, hey man, just letting you know we saw Mark Grace, or Patrick Kane, or Anthony Rizzo at this restaurant and we would put these different nuggets in. I would write the column, I would do the TV show, I’d go get something to eat. I would host Cubs pregame, then host Cubs postgame, then get home many nights at 11:30, 12 o’clock, get up in the morning and crank it right back up and do it all again. I would not trade those moments for anything. There were days where you’re tired, but man, I’m getting paid to talk sports. How blessed am I?

BN: How did you initially break into TV?

DK: I got a phone call one day. It’s snowing like crazy out in Chicago. My phone rings and it’s some guy. He said, “hey, have you ever done television? I know you were a coach and a scout. Our analyst got snowed in. We have a game, DePaul is playing. They’re No. 1 in the country. DePaul is playing in two hours, have you ever done television?” I’d never done anything but watch television. I said, “well, I’ve done a ton of TV”. “You have? Can you do this game?” “Absolutely.”

My dad was a DePaul grad. We had season tickets, I knew everything about that program. I coached against them. Boom, I go to do the game. The guy who hired me, I get done, he said, “why am I flying a guy from LA here to do these games? You’re based right here. That was great. I’ll pay you.” I think it was $800 a game. I got 10 more of them. That’s double what I was making coaching in college. I said, done, I’m in. That was 1987 when I did my first game. Here we are in 2023 and my career has gone to levels I never thought it would.

BN: What made you say, oh yeah, I’ve done TV?

DK: Because I was taught a long time ago, act like you’ve been there before, and if they open the door a crack, you kick that son of a bitch in. That’s it.

BN: Being the grinder that you are whether it’s coaching or your broadcasting career, where does that hunger come from where you just want more and more?

DK: My dad was a workaholic. My brother is a grinder. He’s brilliant. An eye surgeon, trained at the Mayo Clinic. But we all take after my mom and dad, especially my mom. My mom never wanted to hear any complaints about anything. 

We go to the doctor, “you got to get a flu shot.” “I don’t want to get a shot!” “Stop, knock it off. Get your shot and move on.” 

That was my mom. Any obstacle that was in our path, find a way around, grind it. Don’t ever complain. Don’t blame anybody else. Personal responsibility. And if you want something, go get it. Go get it. Just try to be different. Don’t ever have an obstacle that prevents you from finding a way to do the job and just keep grinding.

BN: You mentioned that you used to talk to your mom after each show. When your mom passed, what was that like for you when you’re still doing shows, and she’s no longer here?

DK: Yeah, that was brutal. She died in December of ‘20 of Alzheimer’s and lung cancer. But the lung cancer we didn’t know about until 20 days before she died. 

Alzheimer’s was brutal. Brutal. You could see it start to go downhill. I would still call her after every show, but it wasn’t the same. She was really struggling at the end. I got to hold her hand; my brother and I were there when she died.

There were many times, not so much now because she’s been gone almost three years, but it still happens, where I’ll get done and, “wow, we just had a great show,” or “oh my God, you’re not going to believe I broke this story” or “this guest came on”. I want to call and tell her and I obviously can’t. That was an adjustment period. It was. I’m also a guy who went through a divorce and I have a special needs son. So between those, work became a respite where you dive into your job.

BN: Do you think having so much to do and staying busy has helped you get through some of those tough times?

DK: A hundred percent. I’m a totally different person, I’ve been married 19 years to my wife. She has three sons. They’re my stepsons, but I was there at the parent-teacher conferences. I came into their life at a very young age. They’ve been amazing to my son, Brett. So I have Nick 33, Alex 31 and Garret 30. Everything that they’ve brought to our lives and vice versa, it’s just been amazing. I think it’s really helped me gain a different perspective on my life.

Family is so vitally important to me. Having Brett’s situation, he has what’s called Fragile X syndrome. He’s 29 and works two jobs. He’s an amazing sports fan with an incredible memory. My other three boys were all athletes. Garret played four years of college football on the offensive line. We’d all go to the games and cheer him on. It was amazing. Nick was the captain of the basketball team and Alex was on the basketball team. It just all fed into what I do. They love sports and it’s been a blessing in my life.

BN: Looking forward, you’ve done so much stuff, is there a box that’s unchecked as far as something that you want to experience or do?

DK: I don’t think so. The two boxes I wanted to check, I wanted to do morning drive as a host. I’m doing that with Jonathan and I hope I never have another partner. I want to be with him for the rest of my career, however long that is. I’m not thinking of retiring; I love what I do. And then I wanted to be there the night the Cubs won the World Series. 

Some people in this business think you cannot be a fan of the teams you cover. That’s bullshit. That is ridiculous. You get into sports because you love sports and you love players and you love teams. I wanted the Cubs to win, never hid that fact. I wanted to be there the night they won.

I remember when Theo came I thought, oh, shit’s about to get real. We got Theo Epstein? It was like 2014, it’s three years, we still aren’t great. I went up to him and said, dude, I thought you were gonna bring me a championship here, I don’t want to die before it happens. He looked at me, I’ll never forget it, there were people around and he said, “let me give you a tip. I would probably drop some weight if I was you. I would get in the gym, make sure you eat a little healthier, and give me a little more time and we’ll get it done for you.” And they did.

There’s nothing I could cover, the Cubs could win the next 100, and the Bears win the next 100 and I cover all of them, nothing will ever top November 2, 2016. A-hundred-and-eight years of insanity? And I’m the guy on the air as soon as that game ended on NBC Sports Chicago with tears in my eyes? NBC had a camera on me during the game and I did not know it. My crew is all texting each other, how’s Kap doing? Oh, it’s brutal. When Rajai Davis hit the home run, it was insanity.

I remember my partner was Todd Hollandsworth. Todd had played for us, but he played for seven teams. He was a Rookie of the Year in ‘96 with the Dodgers. We’re up 6-3 in the eighth. We are pacing on our set, and he’s much calmer than me. He looked at me and goes, “dude, we got Chapman, he throws 103. We’re up 6-3, would you relax? This is over.” 

I turned to him because I’m a diehard fan and every fan empathized with me. I turned to him, I said, “listen here son of a bitch, you played for seven teams. You’re a mercenary. You took our money. You have no idea what any of us who grew up and died with this team is going through.”

He’s laughing at me and I’m furious. I mean, furious. And then the game gets tied. They hit the home run. He didn’t see it. I turned and I go, “it’s tied. What do you say now, asshole?” 

He’s like, “what are you talking about? Then he looked up and he heard the scoreboard exploding in Cleveland and went, oh my God, I get it. I totally get it.” Then we came back and won. In my ear, my producer, Jeff Nelson, says “the Cubs just won the effing World Series, we’re on the air in 10, nine, eight….” I turned and I pointed to my dad in the sky. I’ll never forget it. I went, “we did it.” And then we did a four-hour postgame that was like a blur. It’s the greatest possible thing I could ever cover.

BN: Yeah, where do you go from there, right? That’s the pinnacle.

DK: The pinnacle. That was the greatest thing, ever.

BN: What’s the thing that you’re most proud of throughout your career in broadcasting?

DK: I guess the thing that I’m most proud of is that I’m in my hometown. I never wanted to be a guy in New York or LA or wherever. This is the pinnacle. 

To be on the air for 30+ years in this town, where I grew up talking sports about the teams I followed as a little kid. That to me is the coolest part of my career. I’m proud to work with Danny Zederman and Mike Thomas. Those are the two biggest influences in broadcasting for me. I’m the most blessed guy in the world to be able to do what I do in my hometown and to have that hometown be the best sports city in the world. I’m Chicago through and through, man.

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Give Me Less College GameDay, More Game

“If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.”

Demetri Ravanos



The fate of Pat McAfee, as it relates to College GameDay, is uncertain. McAfee has his pride and almost certainly didn’t enjoy being nitpicked by fans for every little thing last season. The show does not absolutely have to have him, but I do think he is more of a net positive than negative for the show. Plus, as I have written before, the network put an awful lot of effort into building rapport between him and Nick Saban last year. It’s hard to imagine ESPN doesn’t find a way to ensure they are working together this season.

McAfee’s drama is what has fans and industry types speculating on the future of College GameDay right now, but there’s something else I have been thinking about lately. Let’s give McAfee a break. Lord knows he has spent enough time as the focus of everyone’s College GameDay criticisms for the last two years.

I want to know how much longer the show intends to stay at three hours. That’s too much pregame show. If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.

College football is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s an easy thing to say when Bama is your alma matter, but I don’t just watch the Crimson Tide. I watch EVERYTHING on a Saturday and I still don’t think I get enough.

So I have a radical two-part proposal. In the morning, I need less GameDay and more games. I think the average fan would be just fine with a one-hour pregame show, but I don’t expect ESPN to cut a valuable property down that severely. Instead, let’s settle on a two-hour show. The party can still start at 9 am, just stop at 11 instead of noon.

For that last hour? Start an East Coast game an hour earlier. It shouldn’t be hard for the network that controls all of the SEC and ACC inventory. Just be fair about it. Make sure all of the home teams are in the Eastern time zone and none of the visitors are from the West Coast or Rocky Mountains.

Think of the list of teams that gives you access to: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee from the SEC, the entire ACC outside of the three new additions, and Cincinnati, West Virginia and UCF in the Big 12. 

Even if ESPN wanted to accommodate playoff contenders like Georgia and Tennessee, there’s still a rich inventory of games they could offer at 11 am. Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech will probably be a top 25 matchup, but it is Power Four conference football. Plus, those are schools that should be happy to be on TV at all, so if you are offering them a spotlight time slot on ESPN, who are they to complain? You can swap those names for just about anyone in the ACC or Big 12 and it still works.

There’s a big difference between star power and mass appeal. McAfee and Saban have star power. Football has mass appeal. GameDay cannot deliver the numbers live football can.

On top of that reality, there’s the fact that it’s a decided advantage ESPN has over it’s top competitor. FOX may have the most valuable league in college sports, but they have spent years branding their coverage around the noon hour. Big Noon Kickoff, Big Noon Saturday. That network could not make the same move to 11 am kickoffs without spending huge money on a new marketing campaign. 

Now, let’s talk about part two of this idea. Take Rece Davis, Saban and Howard and give me a meaningful, insightful recap show after the final game of the night on ESPN comes to an end. That, I think, would have even more value to fans than GameDay.

The NFL is and always will be king, but there is a very large population that isn’t ready to jump into fantasy advice the second we wake up on Sunday. Pro games don’t kick off until 1 pm on the East Coast. Why can’t we keep the college conversation going until like 10 am?

College Football Final is fine, but it isn’t at all dynamic. Think of it this way, that replay that’s looped on ESPNU Sunday mornings, if you’re just flipping around, are you more likely to stop if you see Dan Mullen offering an opinion or Nick Saban?

Ultimately, I don’t expect the decision makers at ESPN will consider my idea. Maybe they will, but they’ll dismiss it. It’s always easier to stick with business as usual, and to be fair, the current way of doing things has been very profitable for them, so who the hell am I, right?

However, this is sort of a continuation of the piece I wrote last week about how the network is approaching negotiations with Stephen A. Smith. If you’re building a media company for the future, you have to focus on getting more meaningful games on TV more often. They are the only things that truly move the needle. Football will always be more valuable than football talk.

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Seller to Seller: Sales Meeting

That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.



Graphic for a Seller to Seller feature

C’mon in everyone. Hope your week is off to a great start and you are excited for this week’s sales meeting. Chances are, you’ve already taken advantage of our topic today, which is technology. Some of you probably took out your phone today, looked at the weather forecast to figure out what to wear, or maybe you pulled up the Starbucks app and ordered your morning coffee, which you then paid for with Apple pay.

I still marvel every time I am watching my home cable system, through my phone, with a beautifully clear picture. I am old enough to remember my family having a small television in our kitchen with rabbit ears and sometimes you would have to smack the side of it to hope the picture got better. Now, I can whip out my phone, pull up anything I want in the universe to watch and see it clearly, even on an airplane.

Technology is great. Except for when it comes to sales.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are things about technology that have helped those of us in sales greatly. No more recording the ad on a reel and driving it over to the other station or ad agency that needs it. Just get it in your email and send it on over, or you can even text it over.

The problem is, like a lot of things when it comes to electronic forms of communication, too much gets lost when you are not face-to-face, and the worst part is the person on the other end can’t tell at all if you are passionate about what it is that you are selling. And that has been a huge negative when it comes to trying to communicate with people through email and text or by sliding into their DMs.

The biggest challenge most sellers face is setting appointments with new prospects. We used to call it cold calling but somehow a lot of places let the ‘calling’ part slip away and it became a game of how many emails and LinkedIn messages you could send in a day. And as we all know, the chance you have of someone getting back to you about a first-time meeting through one of those channels is slim. So, why waste the time?

Some would argue that people do not want to be cold called any longer and they would prefer you reach out to them electronically. Of course, that is because it’s easier for them to ignore you or say no to the meeting without actually talking to you. Which, when you think about it, is the exact opposite of what we as sellers want. We want to be in front of them.

So, this is where it gets challenging, but also where we separate the good sellers and the great sellers, or more importantly, the ones who make ok money and the ones who make big money. It is clearly much, much harder today to get that yes to that first meeting. So, we have to work that much harder to get it. And if you want to be successful in this industry, you have to be putting yourself in positions to be in front of people as often as possible.

Whether it is a networking group, Chamber of Commerce event, stopping into businesses, going to games and events or any other way you can be in front of a group of people, if you aren’t doing these sorts of things on a regular basis, you are missing out on a ton of new relationship opportunities.

If you have determined that you are going to meet your financial goals by emailing and sending LinkedIn messages all day, it is going to be a short career for you, and you might want to start looking up new ways to season your Ramen noodles. This is a people business and not many people stop by the studio or office to say hello and ask if anyone is in that can sell them some advertising.

The biggest part of this is the passion with which you sell your product. I believe that you have to have that passion to really make it big in the sports media sales business, and let’s face it, that is why most of us are in the business in the first place. We love it. Many of us eat, sleep and breathe sports. That passion comes out when you talk about what you do and how you can help a local business with the tools and resources you have at your disposal using sports radio as the catalyst. That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.

Let people see it. Make a promise to yourself that you’re going to do x number of things every month to increase your time in front of the business community in your area. That is where you will make new connections.

Sales managers, I would encourage you to ask your team weekly in one-on-ones about this time and figure out who is putting in the work to really go out and make new relationships and who is doing the equivalent of ‘sitting by the fax machine waiting for orders.’

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Suzyn Waldman and WFAN Had a Lot to Prove 37 Years Ago

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.

Avatar photo



Photo of New York Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman
Screengrab: Newsday TV on YouTube

On July 1st, 1987, Suzyn Waldman was about to be the first voice heard on WFAN in New York, the first all-sports radio station ever.  As she settled in to do her first update, a moment that is played back every year when WFAN celebrates its birthday, Waldman could not help but look over on the other side of the glass into another studio and see people holding hands and crying.

It was the staff of WHN, the radio station that WFAN was replacing at 1050 on the AM dial.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” said Waldman who has been in the Yankees radio booth since 2005. 

“I looked through the glass and all of a sudden it dawned on me that when I opened my mouth, they would cease to exist and it really hit me just by doing that.  People were crying and that picture is something that has stayed with me forever.”

Next Monday, WFAN turns 37 years old, and it all started with these words that resonated with Waldman as she drove by Yankee Stadium on her way to work that day.  The old Yankee Stadium had a message board on both sides of “The House That Ruth Built” and that day the message would become part of WFAN history.

“The sign on the message board says, ‘Vintage Guidry’”, said Waldman as she delivered the first words ever heard on WFAN.   “I think I remember what I was wearing…a white blouse with a black skirt.”

But, unfortunately, that’s not all that Waldman remembers about that day.  Her broadcasting career featured some rocky moments early on and it started with what she heard seconds after that first update.

“What I heard through the other side of the glass was get that smart-ass bitch with the Boston accent off my air in afternoon drive,” recalls Waldman.

That first horrible experience did not deter Waldman who would go on to become a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting and a resume that would land her in the Radio Hall of Fame.  There were those at WFAN who tried to move Waldman to overnights with the hope that she would quit.

She wasn’t about to quit.  Instead, she built a career doing things that many of the male employees didn’t want to do.  She covered teams like the Yankees, Knicks and Devils and with that she made a little history.

“What I had to do for that was create my own job which was the beat reporter,” said Waldman. “I was the one who did that.  I took assignments that the guys didn’t want to do.  I did not have an easy time.  I was not going to be defeated because some man thought I was stupid because I was female.”

While there were those who tried to take down Waldman and ruin her career, she did have people in her corner including her family and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“The Boss” was initially tough on Waldman when she covered the Yankees but quickly grew into a big fan of hers.

Waldman isn’t so sure she would have enjoyed the career that she’s had without the support from Steinbrenner.

“My brother says I would have because I would have found a way,” said Waldman.  “I believed in what I was doing, and I was the one that was going to maybe make it safer for young girls to believe that they could do this or have some kind of career in sports.  George, except for my family, is the most important person in my life.”

In their early days, WFAN went through some growing pains.

They brought in a lot of on-air people from outside of New York and it really wasn’t until WFAN took over the 660 signal from WNBC on the AM dial that the station became a success.  By transforming from Sports Radio 1050 WFAN into Sports Radio 66 WFAN, the all-sports station assumed the iconic “Imus in the Morning” show from WNBC.  The station also created “Mike and the Mad Dog”, the most successful sports radio show in history, in afternoon drive and the rest, as they say, is history.

Waldman knew that WFAN could be a success before it started, but it had to be done the right way.

“Being the sports nut that I am and knowing that there were so many teams in New York,” said Waldman.  “What I did know was it was not going to work if they had national people.  Nobody in New York gives a damn about Nebraska football.”

It was during those early days doing updates at WFAN when Waldman would meet her longtime Yankees radio partner John Sterling.  One of the original hosts that WFAN had hired was legendary Cleveland sports talk host Pete Franklin to do afternoon drive.  But, Franklin’s arrival in New York was delayed because he had suffered a heart attack.

A number of people were brought into fill-in while Franklin recovered and one of them was Sterling, who retired from the Yankees radio booth earlier this season.

“I was John’s update person when he did a week at WFAN in 1987,” said Waldman.  “That’s how I met him.  We hit it off immediately.  I talk to him all the time and he’s very happy.”  

And now, as WFAN is set to turn 37 years old, Waldman is happy that the radio station continues to thrive even though the sports talk format may sound a bit different than it did in the early years.

“I’m not the demographic anymore,” said Waldman.  “It should change.  The times are very different.  I’m really glad I got to be at FAN when we were building something and I’m really proud of that.  Things change and the world changes and I have no problem with that.  It’s somebody else’s turn.”

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.  There were also people who didn’t think that Suzyn Waldman should be on the air.

WFAN and Suzyn proved a lot of people wrong.

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