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Shan Shariff Is Learning To Lighten Up

“You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about.”

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Shan Shariff has been in attack mode since day one. Before the sports radio host landed in Dallas morning drive 11 years ago, he wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster. Shariff scalped a ticket with a friend to go see the Spurs and Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. He used a tape recorder to record himself doing play-by-play of the game. Shariff used the dubbed audio underneath the game footage as his resume tape, which helped him land a job doing color commentating for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning.

From there the American University grad became the sports director at an ESPN affiliate in his hometown. Shariff is from Cambridge, a town along the eastern shore of Maryland. While hosting his own sports radio show, he also interned in Baltimore and later in D.C. All of that hard work helped Shariff land a gig in Kansas City. A successful stint in KC eventually led to a major market opportunity in Dallas.

How many people do you know that would go to an NBA Finals game and record themselves doing play-by-play? How many people do you know that would intern at bigger stations while also being employed as a sports director? The guy is a bulldog.

The interesting twist with Shariff is that although he’s hardwired to be dead serious about sports radio, he’s learned to loosen up and have fun on the air. We also chat about the best and worst parts of hosting in Dallas, butting heads with Ed Werder, and the only rule Jerry Jones has while granting interviews. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: What’s one of the more off-the-wall things you did early in your career to try to get established?

Shan Shariff: I flew out to Bristol to take a tour of ESPN with my mom. My whole plan the entire time was, I’m going to sneak into Bruce Gilbert’s office who was running the radio and hired Colin Cowherd and was in charge of Mike and Mike. I’m like I’m going to slide in here and impress him and sit down and be like I’m your next hire. Because at 20 you think you can do any effing thing in the entire world. You think you’re ready.

I snuck past security in Bristol on the tour, snuck into the office and Bruce Gilbert had just taken the job at 980 in D.C. for Dan Snyder. I’m like dammit. Scott Masteller I believe was the one who had taken his spot. I gave him the whole pitch like I’m here, this is fate, I’m sitting right in front of you, I’m sure no one else in the world has ever thought of this, this creativity. Because you’re supposed to do that with your cover letters and your resume tapes. I’m showing up here. I’m your next hire here in Bristol. And Scott did not hire me. [Laughs] It took a little while longer than I had hoped, but that was part of my grand plan in order to sneak in to ESPN Radio to get hired.

BN: Looking back at your career, what’s something that you should’ve done differently?

SS: It was probably a major mistake early in my radio career in Dallas when I was just trying to be myself, and be honest, and genuine. I let it be known that I was a Washington fan. I sang “Hail To The Redskins” to Jerry Jones after RGIII’s debut. There are listeners who never forgot that, never forgave that. That was a really dumb PR move.

I found at least for me getting older, my die-hard love of my sports teams kind of went away and Dan Snyder in D.C. really made that easier. I left rooting for Washington a long time ago and I root for Cowboys success because it’s better for us and the radio station.

I’m also kind of viewed as the more serious one on the show. Let’s get to the topics. I took broadcasting classes and had an agent and paid for the broadcasting seminars. I really wanted to be a student of it in terms of interviews and resetting and getting to the point of the topic and keeping it on the path. I was probably a little bit too serious with that where my producer and my co-host had been in DFW forever and there’s a lot more light-hearted radio here.

I’m used to D.C. and Baltimore and even when I was in Kansas City for a year. It’s like hey man, it’s a sports show. I would say I’m not going to apologize for talking about sports but that was probably a mistake. It took me too long to lighten up and joke around and get more personal every single day for four and a half hours.

BN: What are the best and worst things about hosting a show in Dallas?

SS: I think it has to fit your sports loves. I’m football first and NFL first. In Dallas, it’s Cowboys obviously. If you’re going to rank it: it’s Cowboys, Cowboys, NFL, then college football, and now it’s kind of morphed over to the Rangers, then the Mavericks, then the Stars. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, so that fits me in the pecking order. I love that I can talk as much football as I want, as much Cowboys as I want.

I know it sounds corny and cheesy but being on the Dallas Cowboys flagship and hosting a morning show and hosting the draft for them on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, that’s a big honor for me. I used to think I want a national show, I want to be on FOX Sports Radio or I want to be on ESPN and then you look up every Tuesday afternoon and your name is on ESPN anyway because Jerry Jones puts you there. You are national basically if you are on the Dallas Cowboys station. Getting the head coach access every single week. Getting Jerry, that would probably be the best part.

Bruce Gilbert took a major chance on me because of the success I had in Kansas City and probably because I stalked him and let him know I could make it work and adjust no matter what. These people in Dallas, for the most part, have accepted me and overlooked the early Washington root for them days and my more brash, aggressive, non-laid-back style. I would say those are the best things about hosting in DFW.

In terms of the worst, I mean early on for me it was a struggle thinking that me talking about my laundry machine blowing up could be half a segment, or a full segment. Troy Aikman called this a winner’s town so it can be tough if you’re not on fire, then you’re running out of some sports topics. The Rangers and Mavericks right now are playing on Bally Sports Network. Bally has had their issues throughout the country in terms of broadcasting their games. We’ve got like 50 percent of the freakin’ metroplex that can’t watch the games. It makes it hard, right?

First off the Rangers have sucked, so you’re talking about a sorry baseball team in a bandwagon town who likes winners. I like to call it LA Light where you have to have something going on. You have to give me a reason. You got things to do here. You’ve got people to see. It’s not Ohio. It’s not Pittsburgh where it’s going to be more diehard sports. You got to give me a reason to watch.

The Rangers haven’t done it. Fifty percent of the people can’t watch the Rangers. Same thing with the Mavericks. Then as I said the Stars, this isn’t a major hockey area so that can be a real challenge around here, which is why we need the Cowboys to give us some non-stop drama all the time, which they do.

BN: I know it depends on the town, but what would your advice be to a sports radio host who’s been drilled: don’t waste time, get to the topic, tease, all that stuff, but sometimes digressing and talking about your weekend badminton game is great. How would you go about telling someone how to feel that out?

SS: Well that’s a great question. Like you prefaced it, I think it matters on the town. If I was going to come here and start over from day one in Dallas, I would say let’s make it 75-25 sports to other. Some might say 70-30. The Ticket might go even heavier than that on the opposite side. I don’t know how it is in Boston. I don’t know how it is in New York.

I heard Mike Francesa the other day say we talk sports, we’re a sports show. But people want to connect. The thing I tell younger broadcasters is obviously work hard, be on top of your shit, and you’ve got to connect with likability and relatability.

If you have a 10-minute segment and you can do a seven-minute sports topic and throw in a great, worthy, three-minute off-topic from sports addition to that segment, then go ahead and do that. That would kind of be a 70-30 mix, 75-25. But learn the market and know the town. One of the guys on the station when I first moved here said here’s a Dallas Cowboy history book. You better know who Tom Landry is, you better know Bob Lilly, you better know Harvey Martin, you better know Drew Pearson because you make one mistake like that around here and you could be screwed. 

Learn the town, ask your boss, and you also have to be funny if you’re going to do that. Know what you’re talented in. If you’re a tremendous storyteller, tell more stories. If your life is chaotic and hectic and you’re willing to open up with it about your dating life or about how wasted you get on the weekends, go ahead and do that, but I would ask your boss the formula and what type of town it is.

BN: Do you ever have a plan with the non-sports stuff where you’re like okay, I could go with falling down while bowling this weekend, or I could talk about the stale sandwich I ate at Subway. What’s your process for picking topics that you think will connect best?

SS: A lot of this in my opinion, it’s about judgment. You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about. You have to know when to go back to the topic. That’s part of the training in terms of play the hits.

What’s your TSL? How often are people tuning in? How often are people tuning out? Then you’ve got to judge if this is a funny enough story. My co-host, RJ, thinks every effing thing he does is funny. He could sit there talking about blowing his nose and that should be half a segment. Well, what’s relatable? What can connect that everyone’s going to talk about? 

Daylight saving was a perfect example. Last week we were complaining about how it sucked that all of a sudden the clock changes. I’ve got a two-year-old. I’ve got to readjust his schedule. It’s awful. Then bam, the political world is talking about passing a Daylight Saving Time change and what’s going to happen with that. We brought it back up again. Everybody can relate to it. I can sit here and talk about how my life is different because of my kid, how all of a sudden dinner time is here, I’ve got to go to sleep it feels like a lot earlier. That’s an example of deciding when something is kind of relatable that everyone can identify with and you can tell your own personal story.

BN: When you’re interviewing Jerry Jones, are there any do’s and don’ts?

SS: Well, we obviously have a relationship with the Cowboys. We’re their flagship. The only rule there’s ever been there with Jerry is don’t get personal. Don’t make it personal. I’m not going to make jokes or comments about Jerry’s looks. It took 10 years for people to finally understand this, we have freedom with the Cowboys to talk about them and sensitive topics that other cities and other teams don’t grant their media, I don’t believe.

Jerry Jones had this story come out a couple of weeks ago about his PR guy that we all worked with for a decade, many people longer, in a voyeurism scandal. Allegedly taking photos of cheerleaders and up the dress of his own daughter. We never got one message about that.

Now, if we stepped over the line and made a joke or said something that you and your buddies may laugh at behind the scenes, maybe we’d get a phone call on that and I think we should. There is a line there. Jerry may have a daughter out there; that just came out. Never got a phone call. Never got a warning because Jerry Jones knows that 99 percent of the time all publicity is good publicity. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s the only rule that there’s ever been with Jerry, don’t make it personal.

One time we got a phone call from Dalrymple the PR guy. After Jerry was on we were doing a follow-up recap and we said do you think he was lying? Was that a lie? Calling him a liar in that instance came across a little bit too personal. They weren’t thrilled about that but other than that, man, I can’t tell you other instances.

If we talk about sensitive issues like Kaepernick, the anthem, COVID, Jerry will let us usually have like a three-week span where we can ask whatever we want. Maybe the suggestion might be like hey, if there’s not another major development in this story, can you ask him about the Salvation Army or other work that he’s doing? Those are the only things that I can remember.

He knows the tough questions are coming. We have to ask the tough questions and I think people now realize that we’re no mouthpiece for the Cowboys because Jerry Jones allows us to say what we want.

BN: You locked horns with Ed Werder recently. What was the general reaction to that?  

SS: General reaction was I would say 98 percent support from our listeners. I like to fight, debate, argue, it’s part of the reason I went into this. Ed had been taking some subtle shots throughout the year about our access to Jerry and other media members not having the same access because Jerry wasn’t talking as much to reporters after games because of COVID. It wasn’t even my show, it was the show after me. I was listening to the interview.

I’ll be the first one to call myself out, our guys out, but if you question the questions that are being asked and act like we’re lobbing up softballs because of the relationship, I take issue with that. That’s why I got really pissed off at Ed.

I didn’t say anything the first few times he did it throughout the year because this is Ed Werder. I grew up watching Ed Werder. He’s been a Cowboy authority. I respect his work and his reports, but man, there’s only so many times I can let you go after the guys that I work with, man. Then we got to get into it. I got a ton of support from the listeners on that, thankfully.

BN: The Ticket recently won a Marconi for Sports Station of the Year and The Musers won a Marconi for Major Market Personality of the Year. What’s it like to go up against that station and a popular morning show when you’re in the same slot?

SS: Well it’s not fun. [Laughs] I was in Kansas City going up against WHB 810. We were the upstart 610. It was me and Nick Wright, Bob Fescoe, my buddy Mark Carman, Robert Ford was on the Royals coverage, he’s now the voice of the Astros, Jeff Passan was our baseball insider. We had a squad. We were hungry. We had a chip on our shoulder and we had a lot of success. 

There were times where I would beat Soren Petro, who was a major powerhouse on the station. I thought when I went to Dallas it’d be the same exact thing. I didn’t care that it was The Ticket. I didn’t care that it was The Musers. Again, I’m however old I was 12 years ago coming off great success. I’m like I might be the youngest morning show or drive-time host in the country in a top-five market. I’m feeling myself.

Then you realize the longevity and the success that they’ve had. It’s been a more challenging fight than I was anticipating, but you’ve got to acknowledge achievements and give respect where it’s due. I still view anyone that’s not on my airwaves as the enemy. I still have that mentality. But they’ve had their reputation I guess for a reason. 

I think they were able to benefit greatly from kind of starting sports radio around here and being one of the first stations throughout the country. Then being here at the beginning of the Cowboys run. One of the things you learn the most from them is longevity and how important that is in terms of keeping your lineup together. Those have been some of the experiences without giving too many compliments because I would never do that.

BN: [Laughs] What’s your reaction to 103.3 going away?

SS: [Waves] Bye. See ya later. That’s some of my Werder bitterness. Tim Cowlishaw decided to chime in so I guess he couldn’t save it with his show on there.

But in all seriousness, it’s kind of a sign of the times a little bit in terms of what’s happening with radio, with sports radio. I’m glad that we outlasted them. You don’t want to see people that you know lose their jobs but in the grand scheme of things, hey one less competitor, so see you later and good luck in the future.

BN: Ideally for your future, what would you want it to look like — you’re still young — what would you like to experience and accomplish?

SS: I would like to get even better ratings in Dallas. I’d like to consistently be number one over The Musers and The Ticket. That hasn’t happened during my overall run here. You’ve got to recognize the facts are the facts. I’d like to have even more consistent success at the top. Then obviously some stability. There are contract questions at this point in time because of COVID and advertising cutbacks. 

A lot of this is luck too. I need the Cowboys to go on a damn run. I need them to get into a conference title game. The most prime city probably during my 10 years here, the glory place to be in sports talk radio was Boston. If you have that Patriots run I think it’s going to be pretty hard for you not to crush it in terms of your sports radio, sports TV success. You’ve seen it with EEI and you’ve seen it with The Sports Hub, which is putting up stupid monster numbers.

My number one wish would be for someone to go — preferably the Cowboys because it’s a football town first — go on a hot run kind of like the Rangers did back-to-back years with their World Series appearances.

Barrett Blogs

Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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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.

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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.”

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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. 

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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?”

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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.”

What’s Next?

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.

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