It’s 10:01 am on a Wednesday in KNBR’s North Beach studios. The sun splashed the Cumulus building and the rest of San Francisco just about 3 hours earlier.
Generally this marks quitting time for Brian Murphy and Paulie McCaffrey but today they have one promo read that stands between them and the door. The day’s 4 hour Murph and Mac show was pretty typical for the longest running sports radio tandem in the Bay Area. Brian discussed the turbulent nature of his recent colonoscopy and Paulie asked earnest questions about the process. All live on 50,000 watts.
Preparing for their 30 second spot, the two radio vets are a shining example of the idea that opposites attract. Brian, in a quarter zip and khakis, is looking over the copy tossing out ideas about how they should attack the read. Paulie, in his hoodie and jeans, answers with Good Will Hunting quotes, all while tapping his black converse-adorned foot to a tune he’s humming to himself. This dance between the San Francisco icons lasts for about 3 minutes before they ultimately decide on nothing, other than just to try it.
They nail it on the first take.
The shorthand between Murph and Mac is tough to describe. They have the kind of connection you can only forge over nearly 14 years of live radio. They can have full conversations with a moment of eye contact. Theirs is a relationship beyond coworkers or even friendship. It almost feels like a marriage.
“I only see one problem with the marriage comparison,” admits Bonnie-Jill Laflin, owner of the show’s third microphone for the last year.
“Married people fight way more.”
Like any tale worth telling, the origin story of Murph and Mac starts with two young men who had no aspirations of becoming what they are today.
Brian Murphy graduated Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco in 1985 and headed off to UCLA to pursue a career in sports writing.
“The dream was to write for Sports Illustrated,” Murphy recounts.
“Back then, there was a traditional route. You’d find a job out of college working for any paper that would have you, then work your way up from there. That was my plan.”
His plan eventually earned him a position with the San Francisco Chronicle covering golf in the early 2000s and catching the attention of the market’s sports radio giant.
“My first interaction with KNBR came as a guest, actually. They’d have me on to talk golf leading up to a major or some big tournament. It was a lot of fun.”
What the sports writer viewed as “fun,” the powers that be at KNBR viewed as potential. In the spring of ’04, Murphy was recruited to fill in opposite Ralph Barbieri on The Razor and Mr. T while Tom Tolbert was traveling for NBA duties.
“You can definitely say my radio career is owed to Tom’s television career,” Murphy offers with a slight chuckle.
In less than a year, Murphy was offered a full time position on the station’s morning drive – one he cautiously accepted.
“I always thought, ‘OK, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just go back to writing.'”
In November of 2004, KNBR had one half of what would become their cornerstone morning show. Unknown to the station and Murphy at the time, the co-host they were looking for had already worked at the station for nearly a decade…as a copywriter.
Paul McCaffrey grew up “bicoastal” well before it was cool, which could not be more Paul McCaffrey.
After spending time in a handful of cities, his college years found him in Boston where he attended Curry College.
“They had a great college radio station, so I would hang out there and eventually they had me DJ jazz at like 7 am on Tuesdays and from there I did every genre up to hip hop.”
“Late 80s hip hop, man – think of all those great artists!”
Upon graduation, McCaffrey did what he always thought he would do and returned to the City by the Bay.
“The time I spent in San Francisco as a kid, I always knew this place was special. I always knew I would be back here. I love this city.”
By the mid 90s McCaffrey found himself in that copywriter position. He wasn’t a DJ, but he was just fine with that.
“I was working in radio in a great city. I wasn’t on air, but I had pretty much let the dream go by then.”
Perhaps Paul was ready to let his on air dream die, but KNBR General Manager Tony Salvatore had no such intention.
“I remember I used to argue with coworkers getting coffee, or in the hallway or something, always about sports – and Tony used to hear me, point and say; ‘I wanna hear more from you.'”
Almost to McCaffrey’s shock, Salvatore gave the copywriter a shot on the station’s newly acquired Ticket 1050. He didn’t spend years in small to medium markets climbing the ladder to big market radio, and he didn’t grind through print media – but he was a passionate fan. His voice was that of the listeners and that perspective was cherished by Salvatore. In a few years, the Curry College grad made a name for himself not only on 1050, but the company’s rock station 107.7 The Bone. A passion for sports and music along with an infectious sense of humor had made McCaffrey’s dreams come true. But things were about to get even better.
By Christmas of 2005 Brian Murphy had been handling KNBR’s morning drive for a year – but the station was still searching for his co-pilot. It was at this point they decided to try Paul McCaffrey opposite Murphy for a handful of shows. You couldn’t pinpoint the reason why or how, but somehow the sports writer and the college jazz DJ complimented each other perfectly. The left side of the brain and the right. They fit together as well as their surnames – Murphy and McCaffrey – or as Tony Salvatore first exclaimed after their first few shows: “Murph and Mac!”
The marriage of Murph and Mac officially began just weeks later. For better or for worse – in sickness and in health. Unfortunately for Paulie and Brian, the San Francisco sports landscape during their first couple years was beyond sick – it was on life support.
“It was awful,” Brian remembers, laughing as if to keep from crying.
“Think about it – the Giants were terrible, the Warriors were terrible, the Niners were terrible. We had nothing!”
From the jump – their partnership was tested. They were forced to make 4 hours of content everyday out of franchises that weren’t giving them much to chat about. It was a challenge they overcame by a little old fashioned creativity.
“We tried a lot of stuff,” Paulie recalls through a nostalgic smile.
The two developed a fake auction in which they would push items associated with losing that no one would want, a “grievance game,” and of course – Paulie Mac’s now signature parody songs.
After a year of making lemonade out of lemons – Murph and Mac had established themselves with Bay Area commuters, just in time for the sports scene to turn around. The “We Believe” Warriors in the Spring of 2007 galvanized the Bay Area in a way that was relatively unprecedented, certainly in the previous ten years. After the ’07 Golden State run, the Giants rose to relevance with Tim Lincecum’s ascension in ’08 and the team’s playoff push in ’09. By the summer of 2010, there was a momentum with the San Francisco Giants that no one could really put a word on – no one but Paulie Mac.
“That summer, the Giants would keep winning these close games, and we were the first ones on the next day to talk about it – and Paulie would always say ‘this feels different, everyone, there’s magic in the air! There’s particles!'”
It was during that run 9 years ago that Murph and Mac rose to a different level of fame among Bay Area sports fans. They would soon be stopped on the street by construction workers only to hear jackhammer operators yell “PARTICLES!”
The subsequent 3 World Series titles by the Giants, the renaissance of the 49ers and the Warriors developing into one of the best teams in the history of the NBA put the Bay Area at the center of the sports world, and Murph and Mac were there for the fans every morning. They became synonymous with success, and fans grew closer and closer to their favorite morning show.
Ask Brian and Paulie for a specific example of a moment they realized how important their show is to certain listeners and they’re overwhelmed. They’ve had people reach out to express how their show got them through personal tragedy. How they offered up a daily distraction from pain and loss. Neither expected to have such an intimate connection with their fan base, but it’s one they refuse to take lightly.
The secret to their success? It might be the “act like there’s no tomorrow attitude” they bring to every show. In an industry that can be as ruthless as any in the world, in a market and a station where they’ve seen a number of coworkers lose their positions without much warning, Brian and Paulie have little delusions about job security.
“You’re definitely aware of your own mortality,” shrugs Paulie. “We just try to have fun with it. Even on the air, that’s just how it is.”
“Yeah we’ve seen Bay Area legends walk out the door – so why not us tomorrow you know? It’s kind of like gallows humor,” declares Brian.
That humility and subtle vulnerability of Murph and Mac is more than just part of their appeal. They’re approachable and it comes through on the airwaves. Their bond is built on being next to each other for countless highs and lows in their personal lives.
“This guy is the best,” Brian sighs while glancing at this partner. His voice as genuine as it was while discussing the unpleasant nature of his colonoscopy.
“There’s absolutely days when you don’t feel like telling jokes for four hours – but it’s on those days when you really have to bring it,” describes Paulie. “You never see David Lee Roth or Mick Jagger come out and cancel a show ’cause they’re having a bad day – why should we?”
In nearly 14 years Murph and Mac has gone from the new show to THE show in the Bay Area. They’re not looking for your adoration, they’re not looking to be celebrated – they’re just happy listeners continue to make them a part of their commute.
Not bad for a golf beat writer and a copy writing jazz DJ.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.