Philly is in John Kincade’s blood. The sports radio host grew up in Broomall, Pennsylvania, which is around 12 miles from Philadelphia City Hall. As he puts it, the only team John ever allowed himself to just be a stupid fan for is the Eagles. He once told his daughter, “You can root for whoever you wish in sports, but you will be an Eagles fan.” Gotta love that. It was an unforeseen path back to Philly for John after a quarter-century in Atlanta, but home never felt so good.
It’s always interesting to hear about the events that lead a big-time host to their current gig. John’s path, which includes cancer and coaching hockey, stands out especially. John talks about his deep respect for Angelo Cataldi, the radio term that he despises the most, and how Philly has drastically changed since the mid-‘90s. We also touch on his first 100 days back in Philly and John’s greatest feeling in radio. Oh, and hair. We can’t forget about that. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s your sports radio path that has led to where you are now?
John Kincade: While I was in college and after college I worked for the Philadelphia Flyers doing video and statistics with their coaching staff under Mike Keenan. I also was coaching ice hockey at the time and thought maybe I wanted to be a hockey coach. That’s craziness. But I was working in the business world. When I stopped working for the Flyers, I continued my coaching career but was working in sales and marketing.
Then when sports radio took off, I got involved with Tony Bruno. He was kind enough to have me as his Flyers correspondent when he was at WCAU. That took me to an internship with WIP. My first air shift was awarded to me by Tom Bigby, God rest his soul. The man was just an absolute legend. I was going down to Atlanta with my business, but I wanted to work in sports radio on the weekends. Tom Bigby was kind enough, Tony Bruno, Angelo Cataldi — I did bits on Angelo Cataldi’s show for over three years before I moved to Atlanta. They all spoke on my behalf with Mike Thompson who was at The Fan in Atlanta. They said put this guy on weekends. Mike Thompson put me on weekends because I had a full-time job during the week. I had my foot in both pools.
Eventually I ended up getting cancer twice. I got cancer in ‘95 and then I got cancer again in ‘97. I said in ‘97 when I got sick again, I told my mom, I said if I survive this, I’m going to go work in radio because I was convinced I was going to die. I was like enough of this part-time crap. I’m going to die. I’m not going to see 40. I’m not going to see 45, 50. So why not do what I want to do? I left and I did radio and TV with the Atlanta Thrashers their first year in ‘99. I worked with Steak Shapiro and their crew at 790 The Zone. Then when they relaunched The Fan in 2000, we started Buck and Kincade and I did that for 20 years.
BN: How would you judge your first 100 days in Philly now that you’re back?
JK: I’m extremely happy the way the show has premiered and the way the show has been received. You’re launching something new and we are doing something that is completely foreign to the market as far as the kind of show we do. Thankfully it appears the younger sports radio listeners are flocking to it and loving it. That’s what I love to hear. I’ve been in the business long enough to know what works.
It’s an intimidating thing to come home because you want to do your best. The difference is, instead of an audience listening to me every day, I’ve got at least 150 people that actually know my cell phone number that are listening to the show every day. I have a huge extended family. Within a 10-mile radius I probably have 15 to 20 cousins. I’m constantly getting that immediate feedback. Sort of like you guys at Barrett Sports Media, you have your little focus groups, well guess what, I’ve got a focus group every day on my cell phone.
I came in the door and I told Beasley Media we’re going to create this show and I said we’re going to break some eggs. We’re going to do things differently and we’re going to resist the urge to do exactly what has been done in Philly sports radio forever. And hopefully the audience will be attracted to it, stick with us, spend more time with us. We are very, very pleased with how we’ve premiered.
BN: What’s the biggest difference with your show compared to other shows in Philly?
JK: We probably take around 15 percent of the calls that any other show in the market takes. I’m going to say 15 percent, maybe 20. There are great, successful hosts in this market, some people who are really legends of the game. Guys I compete with like Angelo Cataldi, Mike Missanelli doing afternoon drive on our station, Anthony Gargano who I follow. These are guys who have been here forever and they do their thing. They do what has worked for them and what this community has fallen in love with them for.
I felt I had an opportunity to come in and do something that I had done on the national level for years where I did not take many calls. I did seven years at ESPN Radio with The John Kincade Show and then eight years on CBS Sports Radio. For 15 years I did it and I said okay, I know this works. I didn’t have to be caller driven. I hate the term caller-driven radio. It is the number one pet peeve to me.
When I talk to young people about getting into the business I say look, the world is going toward podcasting. What do we all want to do? We all want to binge watch. We all want to watch a show on our schedule. My wife wants to watch three episodes of one show in one night. I do not. That’s not how I consume media. My wife loves that. I said, well radio is moving in that direction. And guess what you’re not going to have?
What you need to do is you need to entertain. You need to catch people’s attention and entertain. I think relying on caller-driven radio to me is an idea of saying, well I’ve got a show, and I’m asking people to come and listen to my show, but I have no idea what the content is going to be. It’s going to be provided by random people who pick up the phone and call. To me, and just for me, it’s sort of what sports radio was 20 years ago. I don’t believe it’s what young listeners want and I think the numbers are bearing that out.
BN: What’s it like for you to compete against your mentor, Angelo Cataldi?
JK: The respect, admiration, and flat-out love that I have for Angelo Cataldi will never change, has never changed. He was involved every step of the way when I left Atlanta unceremoniously, and was looking for a job. He flat out told me and I’ll quote, he goes, ‘If these people are dumb enough not to hire you, you go and do whatever you gotta do.’ I had other opportunities including satellite radio. Angelo flat out said it to me, he said whatever you got to do, you take care of your family in the way I took care of mine. You worry about your family. You worry about finding a job that works for you.
What I didn’t expect and I’ll be very honest with you, I did not expect that if you had told me the day I found out I was leaving Atlanta, that I was going to be on 97.5 The Fanatic, I wouldn’t have expected it. But I was blown away by their absolute commitment to wanting to shake things up and do some things differently. To feel wanted? Especially when anyone gets told you make too much money, we can’t afford you, so your contract is not being renewed. That was painful to me because I didn’t understand the concept. Buck and Kincade in the South, we had just celebrated our 20-year anniversary on the air in Atlanta. When you get told well we’re going to move on, we’re just going to put an unceremonious end to it, it’s a hit to the ego. It was like I can’t believe this is happening to me.
But to have people with Beasley Media, and Joe Bell who’s the market manager, and Chuck Damico who is the program director, they literally had the most low-key, highly effective sales pitch I’ve ever heard. What do you want to do? What do you want to create here? How do you see this happening? Everything was directed at me. And honestly every single other place I talked to was saying more along the lines of well here’s what we do, and we think you’d be a good fit for what we do. The blank slate is what drew me to The Fanatic. I give them a lot of credit for taking that chance of wanting to do things differently.
BN: Now that you ended up in Philly at a rival station, what impact has that had on your relationship with Angelo?
JK: It has not had any impact on it at all. From the moment that I began the job search, three different times during the process of deciding what I was going to do, he was one of my first calls. He counseled me along the way. I bounced some ideas off of him about who was talking to me. He was extremely supportive. The day that I decided to take the job with The Fanatic, my first call was to Angelo Cataldi. I picked up the phone and called him because I owed him that respect.
This is a man who helped me launch my career. He’s a guy who taught me and let me see the bag of tricks. David Copperfield let me backstage and I watched this man. I got to see how he performed some of his magic. I do things a lot differently than Angelo, but one thing I learned from him is that you have to have your vision, create loyalty, create connections with your audience, and nobody’s done that better in this market than Angelo Cataldi, period. Ang and I still talk at times in the five months I’ve been home. We were going to make plans to try to have lunch soon. Hopefully that’s going to happen now that all the COVID stuff has lifted.
I couldn’t be more proud to call him a mentor. I’ve had a few. Howard Eskin was a guy I interned under. Tony Bruno was a huge influencer on me, all these guys. I’m so honored that I ever just got to see them do their craft. But in a weird way, I don’t want to be any of them. I want to be my own way, my own image, my own portrayal of what I want to do and it’s because of seeing guys like that do it their way for so long that I have the ability to say, hey here’s what I want to do. Let’s go do it.
Ang couldn’t be any more gracious, any more of a class act. It’s a mutual admiration. I know he continues to kick ass. He knows I’m coming for him and he’s like okay bring it on, dude. [Laughs] I’m ready for it. It’s great because we refuse to play — Philly loves to play up a thing called radio wars. It’s because there have been personalities who’ve worked in this town who tried to create the radio war. It’s not the ‘90s. It’s not the era of Howard Stern. That’s trite. And more importantly, I don’t believe the audience cares if you like a host at another station or anything like that. That’s like high school lunch table crap to me. It’s something that never attracted me as a listener.
BN: What’s your reaction to Spike Eskin going to WFAN?
JK: Well Spike’s taking over a very prominent office; I’ll tell you that much. I had the pleasure with my network show to get to know Mark Chernoff a bit. Over the past two years, to have Mark Chernoff in my cell phone, and a few times to just be able to say, can I talk to you about something? He’d say, 2 o’clock work? 2:30 work? He always had time for me. Great kindness, great insight into the industry. He’s a freakin’ legend. To have the opportunity to have worked under him for a few years was my honor. He helped me also during the whole job search. ‘That situation might not be the best one for you. You want to work under this kind of management.’ I picked his brain. The guy is a treasure trove of information.
I’ve known Spike a long time. What I know about Spike Eskin is he’s a competitor. I think he’s going to bring a new juice to the network. He’s a guy that I think understands there’s different ways for different guys to approach things and to do their job. I think that CBS Sports Radio will be lucky to have him.
BN: Has Philly changed at all since the first time you did radio there?
JK: I know this town like the back of my hand, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s changed. That’s something that has been one of those fun parts of the first 100 days of the show, is learning that this fan base has changed since I left. It’s different than when I left in the ‘90s. I believe it’s a kinder, gentler fan base. I know anybody hearing that about Philadelphia; they’ll laugh at me. But I would completely disagree having grown up here, and having been a part of these fan bases my entire life. It’s a kinder, gentler fan base.
It’s a fan base where people really get up in their feelings about defending the athlete they love, defending the athlete from criticism. It’s interesting. I think it’s a more introspective fan base than when I left.
Conversations are different. The visceral reaction to things seems more civilized from what I remember in my youth. That has been the wildest part of the journey of getting back home here, has been getting to know my fellow fans again, and getting to know what they think, and how they feel, and how they react. I think it’s a much more relaxed fan base than it was when I left. And I never would have said anything about Philly sports was relaxed when I was growing up. It’s completely different.
BN: What do you think is the best and the worst part of Philly sports radio?
JK: The best part is I believe this market has had some of the greatest long-tenured figures sit behind microphones that have helped to shape narratives, discussions, and fan bases for generations. When you’re talking a Mike Missanelli, and a Howard Eskin, and an Angelo Cataldi; these are icons of the industry that are known countrywide. These are guys that have had major, major success. This is a hotbed of sports radio.
What I think is the worst part about it, I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches. I think that’s what I would tend to say.
BN: What do you think is the best and worst part of Atlanta sports radio?
JK: [Laughs] Boy, I have a perfect chance there. I think the worst part of it is, in Philadelphia almost every single person turning on their radio is an Eagles fan, Sixers fan, a Phillies fan. I tell the story when I moved to Atlanta in 1995, there were 2.7 million people. When I packed up to come up to Philadelphia, Christmas vacation of this year, there were 6.8 million people in Atlanta; 4.1 million people over a quarter of a century. That’s huge. But what happened is, they didn’t just give birth to four million Falcon fans. It’s Bears fans. It’s Eagles fans. It’s Giants fans. It’s Dolphin fans that come to Atlanta.
Atlanta is a melting pot. It’s a much more difficult place to do a radio show in sports. I can tell you that. People love college football in the South. That’s great. Unfortunately the audience has six or seven different teams that have fan bases in your market. So if you go too specific, it’s a tune out for the other fan bases. And if you go too broad, people don’t hear enough about their team or enough detail, they’re not into it. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk with the fan bases. Whereas in Philly, a Monday after an Eagles game, the show programs itself.
BN: Are you a guy where scripting teases or parts of the show helps you relax and have fun?
JK: No question. Preparation is what makes me relax and have fun. My wife and daughter call me Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. They call me Sheldon. And they say it lovingly. But those who have ever worked with me know that there’s a hell of a lot of Sheldon Cooper in me.
I speak my mind. I don’t have a filter. I tell you exactly what I thought about a call, a segment, preparation, whatever; I’m not very good at political correctness or mincing words. It’s probably what has helped me have a good career, but it also makes it hard because everybody that I work with has to work the way I want to work. Because it’s the only way it’s going to work. If I’m going to do the show, we have to prepare the same and we have to have a routine and a regimented approach to things.
BN: What has been one of your favorite all-time memories in your sports radio career?
JK: Oh gosh. I would tell you that I don’t believe anybody in the business has my resume of fill-in hosting. I filled in for Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, Mike Tirico; I filled in four and a half years for Colin Cowherd. I don’t do Mount Rushmore shows, but if you were doing one on national sports radio, you’ve got it right there. And I filled in for all of them.
To sit in their chairs, in front of their mics, do their shows, that will forever be to me the greatest ‘oh my gosh’ feeling of the entire thing. I didn’t start full time in a media career until I was 33. To have accomplished that is truly incredible and absolutely a blessing. Just to think of all those people, and I didn’t mention a bunch of others, I’ve been very, very fortunate to do that.
BN: With as much as you’ve accomplished, is there anything else you’d like to experience?
JK: I want to have just a share of the great success that my mentors have had. Honestly I have missed my national radio audience. For 15 years doing my own show, getting to fill in for all those other great hosts over the years, I’ve missed it. It’s only been five months but I’ve missed it. I think at some point I will venture back into doing a national radio show. That is something I would like to do. But I’ve got a job to do right now. Beasley Media and The Fanatic gave me the keys to a great vehicle and they expect me to drive. They expect me to drive ratings, they expect me to drive revenue, and they expect me to make the entire radio station better. That has to be my focus and that’s my desire. I’m going to teach too. Now that I’m back in Philadelphia, I would love to teach a radio broadcasting class to college kids at my alma mater Temple University. That’s something on my list of things that I want to do.
BN: Before you go, you’ve got great hair, John. I need any hair advice you have to share.
JK: Redken products. I like the Redken products. When you use a moisturizer, what you’ve got to do, guys, you don’t wash your hair that day. Don’t use shampoo and then use conditioner. Just rinse your hair and use conditioner. You don’t need to shampoo your hair every day. And I would tell guys, embrace your hair color. One thing I will never do is have my fingernails fall off from clinging to my youth.
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.