Between TV and radio, the New York Mets have two of the best local broadcast teams in sports. On Friday, September 6th, I spent time with Mets radio announcers, Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo to watch them call a game. Over the air, the broadcast sounds effortless, but behind the scenes there are plenty of moving parts, with Rose and Randazzo arriving more than four hours before first pitch.
By 3pm the Mets radio duo, is already in the stadium for a 7:10pm start, individually filling out their scorebooks before heading to the manager’s press conference. Rose and Randazzo separately arrive in the press room where Mets manager Mickey Callaway responds to his first question promptly at 4pm. Howie and Wayne are mostly quiet, taking a few notes as beat reporters search for a tweet-worthy quote during the 10-minute presser.
Right outside the room, General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen sits like the Godfather in a large armchair, welcoming reporters to approach him for one-on-one questions. Today, rain leads to the sound of indoor batting practice as players shuffle from the clubhouse to the cage. While players are readily available for questions, Rose and Randazzo aren’t searching for an inside scoop or anyone to chat with, instead leaving that up to the beat reporters.
“If I need to” Rose said when I asked if he ever looks to talk with players prior to the game. “They have enough reporters hanging out around them, they don’t need me to clog it up anymore. Seriously, I don’t need to be hanging around there unless I have something to say to somebody. There’s probably 15 people for three players in there. When I have a question for a player, I’ll find them.”
At 4:20, Callaway heads into the interview room to speak exclusively with Mets broadcast partners SNY and Entercom’s WCBS 880. Rose, Randazzo and SNY’s announceing crew are behind closed doors with Callaway for five-minutes. While exiting the interview room, Callaway notices a new face and politely walks over to introduce himself to me.
“Mickey’s been great, easy to deal with,” said Randazzo, who hosted the Mets radio pregame show for four years before being named Howie’s full-time broadcast partner this season. “[Terry Collins] before Mickey was a guy that would light up the pregame show, he was always so colorful, but Mickey still has been good, he’s always open and accessible.”
By 5 o’clock Howie and Wayne are back in the booth organizing their pregame notes. Howie sits on the left and both announcers have the lineup taped to a nearby wall with one TV monitor available to Wayne’s right. After their prep, Howie and Wayne head to record videos for the in-stadium scoreboard. Rose can later be seen on the big screen offering fans a “Game Notes” segment, with Wayne providing the “Randazzo Report.”
At 6:30, Brad Heller begins the WCBS Mets Radio Network pregame show. September 6th is one of 40 games that Heller worked this season, the rest are conducted by longtime Mets reporter Ed Coleman. The 30-minute pregame show features Heller’s exclusive chat with the Mets manager and almost takes the broadcast up to first pitch.
At 7:01, Rose welcomes listeners and provides the setting for tonight’s game against the Phillies as the Mets play meaningful baseball in September for the first time since 2016. Randazzo gives his detailed description of both teams’ uniforms, painting a picture for the listener before sending the call back to Howie for first pitch. After starting the game with a 1-0 count, Mets lefty Steven Matz retires the leadoff hitter with a strikeout as both announcers simultaneously mark a straight “K” in their scorebook.
Howie has a highlighter, black and red ink to fill out his scorebook, Wayne adds extra color with blue, pink, green and purple fine point markers. Randazzo also keeps his laptop in front of him, showing Twitter, MLB Gameday and Baseball Reference on the screen, noting that he doesn’t mind looking up information while calling a game. Randazzo even starts mapping out the postgame show before the game is over.
On a cool and rainy night that has the feel of October, Howie and Wayne keep the windows open allowing the opportunity to hear the crowd. The fans filed in slowly, but by the 3rd inning more than half the seats were full, garnering more than expected on a night that many thought would be a rain out.
A good crowd can absolutely enhance a broadcast, as the energy from a raucous fan base is felt through the radio. Both Howie and Wayne expressed how much fun games in August and September are with the Mets making a playoff push that seemed impossible a few weeks earlier.
“It makes it!” Howie said of calling meaningful baseball with an energetic crowd in the building. “Go back to when Washington was here in early August, things were pretty quiet most of the season until then and now all of a sudden they were relevant and this place was ELECTRIC for that three game series, it felt like 2015 again.”
“There’s a different tone based on what’s happening in August and September,” Randazzo added. “If they’re losing and McNeil or Rosario are up to bat, you’re talking about projecting the future, but when the team is in the playoff race, you’re talking about what’s happening right now and how important each game is.”
Wayne takes over the play-by-play to start the third inning as Robbie Cano’s friend and former teammate, Jean Segura leads off for the Phillies. The next inning, Wayne gets to call the first homerun of the game, a 425-foot blast off the bat of Michael Conforto setting a new career high for the Mets outfielder.
Had this WCBS 880 Mets radio broadcast occurred on a weeknight, Randazzo’s call may have been used by the morning show on their sister station WFAN. Earlier in the summer, Gregg Giannotti of Boomer and Gio came to the realization that Randazzo’s voice takes on a 1940’s tone when the broadcaster is behind the mic for an exciting call. Gio’s characterization of Randazzo became a regular bit on WFAN’s morning radio show throughout the season and Wayne has no problem with that.
“No, I don’t mind it,” Randazzo said with a chuckle. “I can actually do a really good impression of that if Gio wants to hear it, I’d be happy to do it.”
“I just think it’s cool that Boomer Esiason knows who I am,” Randazzo added.
At the start of the 5th inning, Randazzo gets set to throw the play-by-play back over to Rose, but not before he calls one more pitch from Steven Matz. Matz’s pitch sailed to the backstop, reminding Randazzo of the lefty’s first Major League pitch in June, 2015. Rose jumps right in, adding that Brandon Phillips hit a homerun after that 2015 wild pitch. It’s a simple exchange between Randazzo and Rose, but the type of back and forth that comes natural for two radio partners working their first season together. Rose spent the last seven years with Josh Lewin in the booth, but the adjustment of sitting next to Wayne Randazzo has been an easy one.
“It’s been wonderful, there’s been no learning curve,” Rose said of his new broadcast partner. “I was just part of the process of sifting through tapes, when we hired Wayne going back five or six years, I wasn’t making the decision. I could give advice or opinion, but I wasn’t doing the hiring. When you hire somebody in this role (pre and postgame host), you know you might be hiring your future partner and that’s one of the things I looked for when we were canvassing the applicants, ‘is this a person who can do this job on a regular basis versus just 10 or 12 times as a fill-in?’ Howie asked.
“The thing that impressed me most about the tape Wayne submitted was his work in a no-hit bid by Jake Arrieta when he was with the Cubs. It didn’t even dawn on me until much later, that Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs radio voice) does every inning of every game!” Rose added. “That was just a practice tape from Wayne, he went into a booth and recorded that on his own, it wasn’t an audition and that blew me away! I knew right there we had a real serious and aspiring broadcaster, not someone just going through the motions. Also, the fact that Josh would miss between six, eight or ten games during the season in recent years – Wayne would fill in, so it was sort of an icebreaker that helped give us the ability to hit the ground running this year.”
“I get to sit here with someone who’s seen every game this team has ever played and is truly one of the best baseball announcers in the business,” Randazzo said of his iconic radio partner, Howie Rose. “As someone that’s trying to one day be that, it’s like a masters’ or doctorate level course in how to do this that not everyone is allowed to have. Even in our meetings with the manager, just watching how Howie and [Gary Cohen] approach the daily questions to see what’s on their mind and what they’re seeing has always been something I’ve learned a lot from, not to mention how they are on-air. Howie has brought out the best in me as a broadcaster and play-by-play person and whether he wants to admit it or not, I’ve learned six million things from him this season and over the last few years when I was doing the pregame show that will stay with me forever.”
Rose’s Mets coverage dates back to the 1980s, when from 1987 – 1995, the broadcaster hosted Mets Extra on WFAN. Since 2004, Rose has been a full-time radio play-by-play voice for the New York Mets, following a tenure calling their games on TV for Fox Sports New York and MSG. Randazzo, a Chicago native is finishing up his first year as Rose’s full-time play-by-play partner, following four seasons as the Mets pregame show host.
“I’ve always wanted to be doing what I’m doing now. Everything I’ve done in my career was done with this in mind,” Randazzo said. “I’ve done updates on 670 The Score, I filled in on White Sox pre and post, did pre and post [on the Mets Radio Network], went to the minor leagues for seven seasons. All of that was to hone my skills, all I’ve ever wanted to be was a baseball announcer so it was building to get to this point and I’m lucky to be here.”
In the sixth inning, Rose openly questions a decision by Mickey Callaway to make a pitching change and remove the left-handed Matz against Phillies pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin, triggering a chess match of decisions. Mets broadcasters are never short on honesty even if it means being critical, something ownership deserves credit for allowing.
Growing up a Mets fan, I was trained by their broadcasters to think critically. Team announcers could take the approach of finding reasons to defend every managerial decision, but instead, they never hold back on presenting an opposing view. As a fan and a listener, I enjoy playing devil’s advocate to see if there is a better in-game decision to be made and Mets broadcasters promote that way of thinking.
Critique and honesty from the Mets radio crew was never more exemplified than in a game against the Phillies on June 26th earlier this year.
“The shortstop is behind second base, he’s got it and he throws to first, you know why? Because Robinson Cano was jogging – he was jogging,” Rose said after a lethargic Cano was thrown out by Phillies infielder Jean Segura during the June 26th broadcast.
“Segura treated him like Wilson Ramos. A lot of times infielders pick the ball up and take that second step because they realize they don’t need to hurry, well in that instance, that’s what Segura did,” Randazzo explained.
“I say unbelievable, but it’s something we’ve talked about all year, if he thinks he’s protecting his quad at this point – oh who cares anymore, what’s the sense of getting on a soap box, it is what it is,” a frustrated Rose continued. “You have to figure he’s going to rest tomorrow right? A day game after night game?”
“I don’t know – maybe McNeil’s the one that’s going to rest tomorrow,” Wayne said sarcastically, noting the Mets tendency to rest one of their young All-Stars.
Even after getting back to the play-by-play, the Cano critique still filtered in, with Rose saying the Mets high-priced second baseman “…chose to jog – fill in whatever blanks you want, we’ve already used them.”
“Segura, who I mentioned before is very good friends with Robinson Cano, it took him by surprise,” Randazzo said.
“It shouldn’t,” Rose added defiantly.
“If the quad continues to be an issue, let’s give Cano the benefit of the doubt for the sake of this point, if that’s going to continue to be an issue, then why is he still hitting third?” Rose asked regarding the Mets decision to place Cano in a premium batting order spot.
I revisited this specific exchange between Rose and Randazzo from June 26th, noting that they didn’t hold back in their criticisms of both Cano and the team.
“That’s my job,” Rose told me.
Every Mets fan listening to the broadcast has similar conversations regarding questionable on-field play or in-game decisions. It can be refreshing to hear professional announcers share the sentiment and not be afraid to broadcast their frustrations publicly. When I asked if management ever told them to be less critical, the Mets longtime broadcaster responded, “not a word.”
“Our owners have never been given the proper credit for allowing the broadcasters to do their job and that goes for TV and radio. You won’t find a more opinionated television crew than we have and that’s pretty well established. They’re given the latitude to call it as they see it,” Rose said regarding the Mets broadcast booth on SNY.
“You’re working with a hall-of-fame caliber play-by-play guy (Gary Cohen) who’s been here 30 years so he’s built up some points on his resume and you’ve got two world champion players (Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez) sitting next to him. They have credibility and nobody is going out of their way to take hot shots, all we do is like they say in football, read and react. We read the game and react to it.”
“To criticize somebody is not personal,” Rose Continued. “If I had an issue with a player years ago when I was doing pre and postgame shows in a more opinion driven role than I am now, even though we give opinions now, it seemed like I had someone pissed off at me every other day. But most of that didn’t last long because I would make it a point to be right in the middle of the clubhouse the next day and if a player wanted to find me, they could and once in a while they did. We would talk, and once or twice what they were being told was said, wasn’t actually said and I even gave them tapes just so they can understand. It’s never personal and 99.9% of the players don’t take it personal. The only obligation you have is to be fair. If you make it personal or it becomes personal, you’re not doing your job.”
Howie’s credit of the Mets television booth speaks to the respect both crews have for each other. Prior to the game, SNY’s Gary, Keith and Ron can be seen in the media lounge sharing a table with Howie and Wayne. The two groups of broadcasters huddle to discuss the game and almost certainly a multitude of other topics considering their dynamic personalities.
“At that point with Cano, we were also aware that he was trying to save himself for the season,” Randazzo said. “He lost a month for a hamstring injury and was dealing with quad problems, so it’s fair to say that Robbie’s trying to conserve himself, but at that time it was getting kind of egregious. I get that Cano is trying to save himself, but on the other hand you have to show more effort than he had been at that time.”
In the seventh inning, Rose and Randazzo both share a laugh at their producer, Chris Majkowski for the sponsored in-game trivia question he selected. “Maj” hands Howie and Wayne a trivia question that begins with, “which nine Mets…” but neither broadcaster had time to come up with nine answers.
As a producer for more than a quarter-century, Maj has played a vital role in helping the Mets radio broadcast become one the best in the country. During the game, Maj fact checks as needed, noting there are specific words Howie uses when he wants the longtime producer to find or confirm a statistic.
Maj offers an additional set of eyes for the broadcast, letting Howie and Wayne know if there’s movement in the bullpen, or catches something that was shown on TV. As someone who’s seen nearly every inning of every Mets game in franchise history, Rose is already a team encyclopedia, so Maj doesn’t need to be in the announcer’s ear continuously.
Being at the stadium every day for six months, local baseball broadcasters know the pulse of the team as well as anyone, so producers may not need to offer as much information as with national announcers that don’t see the team daily. Maj’s job is less about offering statistical help and more about being able to offer feedback, while also making sure the technical side runs smoothly and the very long list of sponsorships are satisfied.
“I don’t know much about other booths, but whatever we are, good, bad or otherwise, we would be way less without him,” Rose said about Majkowski. “An extra set of eyes. Someone to bounce things off of.”
In the eighth inning of a close game, Mets pinch hitter, Luis Guillorme drops a hard bunt and hustles down the line, leading Randazzo to jump up hoping for a safe call. While radio listeners don’t hear Wayne signaling safe, the announcers’ enthusiasm in rooting for the Mets to win bleeds through a broadcast, especially from Howie, a life-long New Yorker and fan of the team.
“When you have a lifetime invested in being around a team, it’s pure and organic,” Rose said regarding openly rooting for the Mets. “The enthusiasm comes naturally, it’s hard to fake it on the air. When the team is doing well, especially at home and you have more people here than you might otherwise, you don’t think about this pumping you up, but it naturally happens. One of the games against Washington, Marcus Stroman was great, he struck out six or seven in a row, he’s very emotional and animated. The crowd was just eating out of the hand. You ride that wave because it reminds you how different it is to call meaningful games as opposed to not being in the race in August and September. You live for this.”
On this night the wave of Mets fans’ emotions were in full swing. With a two-run lead in the ninth-inning, the Mets highly touted closer, Edwin Diaz entered the game in the midst of a disastrous season. Diaz blew the save.
“It is almost incomprehensible that Edwin Diaz has given up yet another huge homerun,” Rose said as the Phillies tied the game with a two-run blast by JT Realmuto.
Even with a defeating top of the ninth, this story will end exactly how I hoped. In the bottom of the inning, the Mets young slugging superstar, Pete Alonso draws a bases-loaded walk to break the tie and allow Howie Rose to close the broadcast with the phrase that signals victory, “Put it in the books!”
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
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.