Sports radio hosts encounter Twitter trolls constantly. It’s common to receive messages like, “You suck, I hate you,” or my personal favorite, “Your an idiot.” Being the target of anger comes with the territory. Many hosts don’t have to deal with feedback that is racist or sexist in nature though.
Sadly this is not a luxury that FS1 superstar Joy Taylor enjoys. The brilliant co-host of The Herd with Colin Cowherd talks about a method she has developed for dealing with these lowlifes. Hopefully her technique will discourage others from lashing out so Joy can be treated with the respect she deserves.
There is much more wisdom from Joy in the conversation below. The biggest improvement she has made as a broadcaster traces back to her early days in the industry. Joy carries what she developed in Miami to the national radio and TV airwaves. Her views on how the prodominantly white media is handling topics that deal with the current social unrest is a must-read. Joy also says that she doesn’t want to be normal and embraces being a little off. Many people — aka the smart ones — love her just the way she is. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Which FaceApp picture do you think is better; you as a man or Colin as a woman?
Joy Taylor: [Laughs] Colin actually was more impressive. I obviously spend a lot of time on social media and I have Snapchat. It sounds weird but I’ve seen myself as a man before, at least according to what the apps would say.
I think this was Colin’s first experience with FaceApp. He looked great — high cheekbones, really great hair. It was fun. It was very unexpected. I saw Jason had tweeted that. I look exactly like my nephew, [former Miami Dolphin and Joy’ brother] Jason [Taylor]’s older son Isaiah. He looks like Jason with hair, so it was funny.
BN: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from Colin?
JT: Colin is a very thorough prepper. I think prepping is the number one thing you have to learn as a broadcaster. How do you prep the right way to let you do a good job? What kind of materials do you need during the show to do a good show? It’s really different for each person.
Every talent has a completely different routine for how they like to do it. With Colin we do a two-hour prep call before every three-hour show. So essentially Colin does a show before the show, which is remarkable. Now he would say it’s not that big of a deal, but it is a big deal. That’s a lot of prep.
I’ve worked with a ton of different talent in the industry, not that there’s any right or wrong way to do it, but that’s a lot of energy to talk through every single topic that thoroughly. He has his own system of notes, which I kind of tease him about because no one else on Earth could possibly understand his note system. I’m very OCD so I like my notes to be super organized, highlighted, this part bold, underlined. I have a completely different formula for how I do it but I have learned a lot about how and what preparation works best for a show of our length — especially being a TV/radio simulcast, which is different from doing just a radio only show. He’s very thorough and likes to be very, very prepared. I’ve been learning a lot from him when it comes to that.
BN: What was your first break in sports radio?
JT: I started interning at 560 QAM in Miami when I was in college at Barry University on the Joe Rose morning show. That was my first entrance of any official kind into the business. I did an internship with him. I believe it was my junior year of college. At that time those stations were owned by Beasley Broadcasting and they also had Power 96 in the building.
After I finished my internship with Joe Rose, I had developed a relationship with DJ Laz and the morning show over at Power 96 so they gave me an opportunity to intern there in a completely different capacity. It’s a music morning show, entertainment, a little bit of sports, and I would do sports updates for him, but also learning a completely different side of the business and implementing a lot of entertainment into the show. I did some internships in college that prepared me. I also worked at the radio station at our university as well. I really tried to get a lot of hands-on experience.
I eventually got my first job at QAM where I had interned a few years later on The Sid Rosenberg Show as a part-time producer. Anyone who knows radio knows that that is not a very high-paying gig, but I was very happy to have it because it’s very hard to get a job in the business. That’s the first step.
Nobody wants to hire you if you don’t have any experience. You can’t get any experience if you don’t get hired. That was really my first break; my first paying job in the business was being a part-time producer at QAM for Sid Rosenberg’s show. I freelanced at a few other places while doing that show but that was the first break.
BN: When do you first remember thinking, man, I really want to be on the air as a sports radio host?
JT: I’ve always loved sports. I grew up in Pittsburgh so that’s not an option whether you’re going to like sports or not when you grew up in Pittsburgh. I played sports growing up and obviously had the opportunity to watch my brother’s career, which taught me a lot about the business and the personal side of sports. I think I just always was meant to be a personality.
I have the same story that every broadcaster has when you’re a kid you did your newscast with your hair brush in front of the mirror. My mom had gotten us this VHS camera that you put the whole actual tape in. We would record these news broadcasts. I really thought this is what I was supposed to do and what I really felt like I could be great at. After I finished college and went through the little journey you go through after you don’t get your first job that you want out of college, and just realized I love sports and I love talking.
I always wanted to be on air and got the opportunity with Sid. Sid is a very big personality. I learned a lot from him as well just being very unapologetic. I quickly realized from being with those talents — Joe Rose, DJ Laz, and then starting with Sid — that if I was going to be successful in this business I want to be a personality. That’s what best suits me.
I had done some reporting stuff. I had done some news stuff in college. There are so many different areas in the business you can get into but you should really do what you’re passionate about the most. I think all the experiences that I had early on in my career and in college really helped me get into the space that I’m in now.
BN: What is the main improvement you’ve made from when you first started off to where you are now?
JT: I think confidence. That really comes from reps. When you’re a young broadcaster, you feel like you’re getting into a business where you have to be very confident, but you don’t get opportunities, or you’re still a little nervous. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just turning the microphone on and talking. You’ve got to hit breaks. You’ve got to read lives. You have to make sure that you get all the commercials in. Are you taking callers? How do you introduce them? How do you pull them up? Where’s the cough button? There’s a lot that goes on during a show that’s not just talking.
I think in the beginning knowing what kind of personality you want to be — that can be difficult too because maybe there isn’t someone in the business that exists to look up to. Confidence for me has been the biggest thing. Just understanding that you’re going to make mistakes, which is why I think working for a student radio station and doing internships and taking those Saturday night 8 o’clock to 10pm shifts on the local radio station that probably not a lot of people are listening to, but you can make your mistakes there and learn to not be nervous and be confident. I think that’s the biggest change because you know how you feel, right? You know when you’re watching a game and you’re talking to your friends what your opinions are, but how to put it all together, how to be smart and informed and prepped and be entertaining at the same time just comes from reps. I think the biggest change for me is definitely confidence.
BN: What do you think about the way your show has handled subjects like George Floyd and NASCAR banning the Confederate flag?
JT: I think we’ve handled it on the show really well. I’ve had the opportunity to have some really open conversations. I think our network does a really good job about empowering talent to have those conversations and supporting us in that.
I’m exhausted and I’m very sad and frustrated that we still have to have these conversations. But I think it’s an important time in history with everything that’s going on with the election year, COVID obviously, and then now the string of deaths, murders, bringing that to light and having these really open conversations that I hope will bring about some real healing and change. I think it’s important to keep shining the light on it because as soon as it goes quiet that’s when we sink back into what we’ve been doing for many years in this country, which is not giving the true racist scar that this country has the attention it needs to heal and move forward together. I won’t speak for everyone but I talk to a lot of people in the business and it’s been a very exhausting time for everyone, but necessary.
I get a lot of…let’s just call it hate on social media, which I’m used to and I can handle, but normally if someone’s doing too much I’ll just block them. It’s not going to change my life whether or not you see my next social media post, but lately I’ve made a conscious effort not to block people and kind of highlight the terrible things that people are saying.
I’ll see people and they’ll talk to me and be like, “Wow, I’ll read some of this stuff on social media and it’s horrible. How do you deal with that every day?” I’m like well I want you to see that. I want people to see that this stuff does happen. It exists. There are lots of people out there that still feel the way they do and they’re still very racist. They’re very sexist.
BN: When you go on social media after a show and someone sends you something that’s racist or sexist, is it hard not to get dragged down by that?
JT: Yes and no. I feel like I’m fortunately — I don’t know if it’s fortunate or not — but I feel like I’m very callous to it, very used to it.
It’s not something I spend my day complaining about, but I also realize I am not just speaking for me. I represent other people. As a black woman in the business and having a platform, I have a responsibility to use that platform properly. Does it hurt my feelings? No. Me? No, because I know if I saw this person on the street they wouldn’t say anything to me. They would not do that. These are weak people. They’re hiding behind fake accounts. These are internet trolls. They’re too scared to even put their name on what they’re saying.
I do realize other people see that and may feel threatened or afraid or sad or brought down by what’s being said to me. Does it hurt? It hurts that it’s still happening, not that that person is doing something that’s going to change my day. I know who I am and what I’m capable of and what I’m going to do, so that person doesn’t hurt me. It’s more of the fact that I want to continue to show other people who are out there denying that any of this is real and this is all a conspiracy or it’s not that bad or whatever, they need to see that. It’s more for them.
BN: Sports radio in general is very white dominated. Does it ever make you uncomfortable if you flip on a show and they’re talking about George Floyd or a social issue?
JT: Yeah, it makes me uncomfortable depending on how the conversation is going. I wish there was more diversity in the business. I wish there was more diversity behind the scenes in the business. I wish they would hire more black producers, more black women in executive positions, more black people behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. I just wish the business was more diverse overall. Some of the conversations definitely make me uncomfortable.
I think the George Floyd conversation is directly related to George Floyd. I think for the most part what I’ve seen and heard has been very straightforward and mostly everyone has hit the tone of what it should be correctly, which is that he was murdered and deserves justice. I do think with the broader conversations there can be a tone of ignorance and more importantly a lack of empathy from non-diverse talent. That’s what’s more hurtful to me.
When I’m hearing some of the conversations that I don’t agree with, it’s not so much that I feel like they don’t know what’s going on, it’s more just a lack of empathy for an entire community that’s been saying this is a problem for a long time. Now it’s become very undeniable because we have camera phones to prove what’s happening.
To answer your question there’s definitely been times where I’ve been extremely uncomfortable, but the broader conversations are more of the ones that start to put me in that space because the George Floyd conversation is very straightforward.
BN: Is having your podcast a good outlet in terms of the conversations you want to have and the topics you want to hit on that might differ from The Herd?
JT: Yeah, absolutely. I started the podcast when I started on Undisputed because I did come from Miami doing a four-hour morning drive radio show. Being a moderator, your space is quite limited. Obviously I was very happy to have the opportunity but I still wanted to be able to get my opinions out there and stay sharp as a talent. That’s why I started the podcast a little over two years ago now.
I definitely still use it in that space. The week that everything started to ramp up with the conversation around George Floyd, I didn’t feel right doing a normal podcast so I just had everyone that’s on the podcast with me just get on a Zoom call. We did that as our podcast instead. We just had a conversation about how all of us were feeling and what this really means. I think it was very therapeutic.
I feel like the podcast is a space that I try to use to focus on things that I really want to talk about. I want the podcast to be a good blend of youth, culture, sports, entertainment, conversations that I have with my friends and things that we talk about pertaining to sports, people that I think will be interesting to talk about sports with. That’s the thing that I’ve tried to keep the podcast in since we launched it.
BN: How did you settle on the name for your podcast? What’s the backstory with Maybe I’m Crazy?
JT: [Laughs] Crazy has a lot of implications. I’ve always been a little off but I embrace it. I don’t want to be normal. That’s sort of where the name came from. I’m saying these off-the-wall things that people get really irritated or excited about. That’s just kind of where it came from.
BN: You have so much ahead of you in the industry, is there anything in particular that you would like to do along the way?
JT: It’s really important to me to be able to have an impact on the industry outside of just myself. Obviously I have goals and things that I want to accomplish in the business in the near future and further down the road, but I just want whatever I do to have an impact on the next generation of broadcasters and sports broadcasters that come after me. I don’t want to leave the business the same way that I came in. Does that make sense?
JT: It’s important to me to see a more diverse culture when it comes to sports media and sports entertainment on camera and behind the scenes. Anytime I have an opportunity to make decisions as a talent, which isn’t always obviously, we all have bosses and work for networks, but when I do have those opportunities I want to take advantage of them as far as making sure that I have a diverse staff on any project that I work on and just encouraging young people to think in that same way and hopefully use whatever influence that I gain in the business to keep pushing that forward because I think it’s very important.
Being able to see yourself on television or see people that look like you or come from where you come from in those positions, it’s really seeing is believing. Representation really matters. I just want to continue to be a mentor and help push that forward however I can. Whatever I do in the business — which we’ll see, we’ve got to get sports back [laughs] — I have a lot of aspirations and different things I want to do in the business for sure short-term and long-term, but that’s just the most important thing to me.
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.