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Josh Innes – Sports Radio 94 WIP

Jason Barrett

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If you’ve ever listened to Josh Innes on the radio, chances are you have a strong opinion about him. He’s forceful with his opinions, not afraid to enter uncomfortable territory, and thrives on being in the middle of intense conversations.

Those traits have propelled him to be one of sports radio’s best over the past 5 years. While he’s certainly developed his legion of critics along the way, and earned a few industry enemies, he’s also delivered an impact in two top-10 markets – Philadelphia and Houston.

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Consider me one of those people who appreciates what Innes does. While I may not agree with every one of his tactics, I recognize his commitment to creating great radio, and I find it refreshing when talent are willing to put their lives on display for the whole world to see. In today’s world where opinions are second guessed, criticized, and passed around social media like a hot potato the moment they’re uttered, Josh speaks with force, endures the avalanche of negativity that comes with it, and does so without wavering.

When I listen to Josh, I hear someone who understands how to entertain, and take control of the airwaves. In some ways he’s like an infection that infiltrates the brain and sinks deeper and deeper inside, until it fully owns the mind. If you’ve seen the movie “Private Parts“, then you remember the scene, where the Program Director is irate because the ratings are in, and they verify that people who hate Howard Stern listen to him longer. Josh has a very similar effect.

That’s also evident by the way people respond and interact with him on social media. Not a day goes by where Josh isn’t engaging with listeners, sharing his personal life, posting photos, and diving into dialogue about things that may make some executives cringe. Heck, his Twitter profile photo is a photoshopped picture of his head on the Iron Sheik’s body, putting rival afternoon host Mike Missanelli in a camel clutch.

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Interesting enough, the man who brought Innes to Philadelphia, Andy Bloom, was also the one to put Stern on in Philadelphia during his dominant reign on terrestrial radio. It’s easy to see from afar why Bloom brought Josh to Philadelphia, and he’s dipped into his old playbook, and is providing some tricks and wisdom to his new protege to help him gain traction in the market. And it’s working.

Josh’s arrival though in the city of brotherly love, hasn’t exactly led to a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings among media members. He’s publicly sparred with his rival Missanelli, and former WIP host turned 97.5 The Fanatic morning man Anthony Gargano is also not a fan. Josh has also drawn the ire of the city’s most passionate sports fans, many who have a parochial view, especially when it comes to the people they listen to on local sports talk radio. Ironically, Innes went through a similar love-hate relationship in Houston with media members and listeners.

None the less, he’s created quite a storm, and that buzz has catapulted his afternoon show to the top of the ratings. However, the success in afternoons was also created with Tony Bruno, who has since left the show to focus on his podcasting work. Will the same success continue without the popular Bruno? That’s the challenge that WIP and Josh face going forward.

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To move in that direction, WIP has rebuilt the afternoon show into a 3-person program. The show now features Innes, former Eagles player Hollis Thomas, and Program Director Spike Eskin, who is the son of one of Philadelphia’s most successful talk show hosts, Howard Eskin. While the show is brand new and hasn’t had a full month together on-air, there’s no doubt of who the show’s master of chaos is, it’s Innes.

The one thing I’ve learned during my career is that the ones who emerge in this format, have no issue taking tough positions, enduring the wrath of people internally and externally, and their entire lives revolve around the show. Because they’re open and transparent with the audience, and don’t let anyone or anything dictate the way they deliver their content, they gain the respect and loyalty of their listeners, which often leads to strong ratings.

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As an example, Angelo Cataldi, Mike North, Dennis and Callahan, Paul Finebaum, Mike Francesa, Colin Cowherd, Howard Eskin, and even Innes’ competitor Mike Missanelli, have all taken that approach during their careers, and its led to a lot of money and success, for themselves and their employers. You can agree or disagree with their opinions and styles, and approve or disapprove of their methods to generate reaction and interest, but their formula works.

In that way, Innes is a throwback. He’s not reinventing the wheel, he’s simply giving it a modern day adjustment. In a crowded marketplace with a whole lot of bravado among personalities, Innes has entered the room, planted his flag, and made sure everyone is aware he’s present. While opinions on him differ, they all realize he’s there and a legitimate threat.

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As someone who has watched the Philadelphia situation from afar, and has followed Josh’s rise from Baton Rouge, to Houston, to now Philadelphia, I’m not surprised by his success. He’s continued growing as a talent and individual, and Gavin Spittle (PD at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, previously PD at 610 KILT in Houston), and Bloom, deserve credit for their role in his development. They’ve taken the risk to bring him into their cities, push him when necessary, but also let him be himself. They stuck by him during tumultuous times, which isn’t easy to do when you’re dealing with public and corporate pressure, and you’re unsure of whether or not it’s deserved.

I remember being in St. Louis programming 101 ESPN, and Innes was on my short list of candidates of people I’d consider if we had an opening. He was from Missouri, a lifelong Cardinals fan, and he had a great sound and lot of talent. While he was young, and still figuring out his path, and did a couple of things that made me scratch my head, any smart programmer could tell he had great ability, and the potential to do great things. It’s why a number of major market programmers had him on their lists too.

What some people don’t know, is how much he studies radio. One of our first conversations revolved around my station in St. Louis. Josh reached out, not because he wanted to tell me why he was the next big thing and needed to be on my airwaves, instead it was to offer praise because he had listened to the station, and was impressed with its presentation. While I wasn’t seeking validation for my work, what stood out were the details of his assessment. Despite not living in my market, he correctly analyzed how I liked to operate my brand, and he had a great respect and understanding of the talent, imaging, formatics, and content.

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Josh remained on my list of considerations in San Francisco, and when some changes took place at my former station 95.7 The Game, I gave him a strong look. By the time discussions began though, he was already deep into the process with WIP, so the timing didn’t work. Judging by the way he’s impacted the Philadelphia market, he made the right decision for his career.

Recently I caught up with Josh to get his views on a number of subjects including the transition to Philadelphia, his time in Baton Rouge and Houston, his views on the state of sports radio today, and the reasons behind his approach on-air and on social media. I think you’ll find the discussion interesting and entertaining, two words that best describe my guest, Josh Innes.

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Q: Your father Scott spent 30 years in radio and was the cartoon voice of Scooby Doo so entertaining has always run in the family. At what age did you know that you wanted to follow in his footsteps and work in the radio industry?

A: I think I was about 13 or 14. Prior that I wanted to direct movies. My dad bought me a video camera and I’d focus my energy on recreating movie scenes. I would learn how to edit them and add music before it was possible to do that from your cell phone. I wanted to be Alfred Hitchcock. I read books about him and watched his movies. I was addicted to horror movies. I used to attempt to recreate the shower scene from “Psycho” with my best friend. It was odd having a guy in the scene. I wish I still had some of the old videos. In one instance I’m filming the shower scene and in the background my dad walks in and says “What in the hell are you idiots doing?”.

I think it was the summer of 2000 when I decided I wanted to be the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. My grandpa was a dumpster diver and he found a Talk Boy recorder in someones garbage can. You may remember the Talk Boy from “Home Alone 2”. I would visit my relatives in Missouri and watch the Cardinals games and call them into the recorder. I wanted so badly to be Jack Buck. I read his autobiography countless times, and I watched old Cardinals highlight tapes that featured radio play by play. I would watch them on loop. I am obsessive when it comes to things I enjoy. I lived in Louisiana but I’d listen to the Cardinals games on KMOX which could be heard across the country at night. I’d sit in my dad’s truck and go up and down the driveway. At times I’d sneak the truck to the end of the road and hold the recorder up to the speaker and record the games.

Q: Who were some of the broadcasters you listened to growing up that influenced your desire to pursue this industry?

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A: I have such a strange list of influences. My initial influence was Jack Buck. In my opinion he is the best baseball play by play man ever. I know that most will say Vin Scully is the best, but Jack was my guy. I have a picture of him and I at Busch Stadium when I was a baby.

When I was 14 I caught a batting practice home run ball at Busch Stadium. I waited outside the old press box for Jack to come out and sign it. At this point in his life he had very advanced Parkinson’s and a litany of other health issues. He walked out of the booth and I approached him. “Mr. Buck, Mr. Buck” I yelled out. “Could you please sign my ball?“. He has my grandpa and I get into an elevator with him and he signs it. “I’ve read your book 100 times” I tell him. “Did it put you to sleep?” he replied with a grin. We got out of the elevator, he disappeared and I realized I didn’t get a picture with him. The next day I go back to the booth. “Mr. Buck, Mr. Buck…can I get a picture?“. He walks up to me and says “I signed yours yesterday” and walks off. I was crushed at the time but settled for a picture with Al Hrabosky.

If I wanted to I could have focused on being a play by play guy, but I chose to go into sports radio. My radio influences are mostly from formats outside of sports. Howard Stern is an obvious one. He’s the king. I admire guys like Scott Shannon. Scott’s the greatest programmer of the 20th century. I love old FM jocks. I admire them because what they did was an art. I watch old video air checks of all these guys. I’m a dork.

Q: Your first jobs in the business were in the Baton Rouge market (if that’s wrong let me know). You worked for WJBO and WSKR. What were your responsibilities and what did you like/dislike about the job?

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A: This will sound lame but I loved everything about those jobs. I was 19 at the time and my job at JBO was originally part time. I’d run SWAC Football and High School Football shows on Saturday mornings, and I’d do the shifts no one wanted to. I worked all the holidays for maybe $6.50 an hour. People assume because my dad worked in the building that I was given these jobs and that they were glamourous, but I earned them by going to the station during Hurricane Katrina and telling Matt Kennedy that I’d do anything they needed me to do.

That night he had me call all of the offices of emergency preparedness to find out about school closings. The next day I’m at the governors press conference with a mic in her face. I was too stupid to know any better. I just did it. When I got the full time job at JBO and Score, I did morning sports updates on the news/talk station. I also babysat 6 radio stations from 3p-11p every day. My job was to do anything they needed me to do, and make sure that if World War 3 broke out that the phone would be answered. I hosted an hour sports show from 3p-4p daily with Matt Moscona who is now the #1 host in Baton Rouge and one of my best friends.

I should point out that before I ever got the part time job at Clear Channel, I did play by play for the Baton Rouge Kingfish of the ECHL and the Baton Rouge Riverbats of the Southeastern League of Professional Baseball. The Kingfish gig came when I was 15. I think they did it as a publicity stunt, but it turned out I was decent and they kept me on for 2 years. I did the 2nd period play by play for home games. I also made some road trips. The Riverbats gig was the time of my life. I thought I had made it. Imagine being a 16 year old kid traveling to Pensacola, FL and Macon, Ga calling games. I set up the whole broadcast. I was such a nerd. I learned everything about engineering broadcasts.

Q: They say you haven’t worked in radio until you’ve been fired and you gained that experience when WJBO parted ways with you in 2009 due to budget cuts. Where were you when you got the news? What was your reaction? And what did you learn from the experience? 

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A: I was at the station preparing to go on the air and my email wasn’t working. I was naive. I walked into my PD’s office and told him I was having email issues and he said “Me too. I’ll look into it“. A few minutes later I hear an announcement over the intercom, “Josh Innes please come to Dick Lewis’ office“. Dick Lewis was the main guy at Clear Channel Baton Rouge. He called me in and honestly I don’t remember what he said. I remember walking to my car as my dad pulled up to do his shift. I was pretty crushed but I assumed I would be alright. I tried to get a gig on a rock station in town. The demo I put together was so dreadful. I still have it and it’s the one thing I’m actually embarrassed to play on air. Strangely enough they hired me back in August but in November I got the job at KILT.

Q: So you make the move to Houston, where you’re brought in to anchor updates in morning drive and host a solo hour from 10a-11a on Sports Radio KILT. How did the opportunity come about and what made you believe it was the right next step for your career?

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A: I used a site called STAA.com. Jon Chelesnik was a real believer in me. He sent my material to a few stations. One was 790 in Houston and the other was 610 KILT in Houston. I was scheduled for an on air audition at 790 followed by an interview with Gavin Spittle at 610, but a few days before I was to drive there, 790 rescheduled. I told Gavin I still wanted to meet with him so I did and he hired me on the spot. What made it seem like the right next step? It doubled my salary and I went from market 80 to market 6. Plus, Gavin had great vision for entertaining sports radio.

Q: After only a few months in Houston, you were chosen to do some fill-ins for Jim Rome. How did that situation come about, considering you weren’t yet hosting a 3-4 hour daily show? 

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A: Rome used a lot of local guys to fill in. I think Gavin really pushed for me to get that fill in opportunity. It fell on the day after Lebron’s decision. Jason Stewart of the Rome show really liked it and asked me back 8 more times. I also think part of it was that other than Los Angeles, Houston was the biggest market for Rome and they wanted to save the show locally. I choose to believe I was good. Ha!

Q: The station then elevated you to work afternoons with Rich Lord, one of the most popular talents in Houston. Together you had a lot of success, but the relationship between the two of you at times was strained. What made it difficult for you guys to get on the same page?

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A: He was an old school guy. At times we really had fun and it was a good show. I just don’t think he liked my style. I think he liked the benefits of being on the show but didn’t really care for my style. I didn’t like a lot of the stuff he did. I think it eventually became a personal thing for both of us.

Q: Despite some personality differences with Rich, your stay in Houston put you on the map, and you had a lot of success. When you reflect back now on the entire Houston experience, how would you summarize it? 

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A: When you are in the moment it seems a whole lot worse than what it actually was. I met many people who I consider best friends there. When the station was really cooking it was a great radio station. Gavin is the best sports radio programmer in the country. That isn’t a slight against anyone else that I’ve worked for but he gets ratings in markets that he has no business getting ratings. I was young. I had fun. I met my girlfriend. I made a little money. If Gavin wouldn’t have left for Dallas I may still be there. I had a 3 year offer at the end of 2012. Gavin left in January of 2013 and I never signed it.

Q: Next you moved to your current home, Philadelphia. WIP brought you in to host nights and immediately, your arrival was met with mixed reviews among local media people. Why do you believe there was such a divide when you hadn’t even spent a full month yet in the market?

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A: Fear. I was met with some of the most ridiculous criticisms from people. When I got to Houston there were long time local talents like Barry Warner who took me under their wing and wanted to teach me about the market. They wanted to help me succeed.

In Philadelphia, no on really wants to help anyone else. That’s not to say that the people are bad. It’s just a different vibe among media people. The local afternoon guy never liked me and told people behind the scenes that I would not make it in Philly. He chirped behind the scenes and I made fun of him on air. That’s my style. That said, it’s not like I had wars with everyone. Angelo Cataldi is the best in the market and I never had any issue with him. Michael Barkann and Ike Reese were very good to me. Steve Trevelise liked me from the jump and has been openly supportive which I appreciate.

Q: Your evening show started to create some buzz, and in February of this year, you were moved into afternoons with Tony Bruno. The show had strong ratings success out of the gate but ended in less than 6 months, when Bruno decided to leave terrestrial radio. How would you characterize the entire experience and your relationship with Tony?

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A: I considered Tony to be a buddy. We didn’t run the roads together or double date but I liked him and I still do. We had fun. We went to Vegas for a fight and had a blast. We went to spring training in Florida and had a blast. He’s a good guy. I read everywhere that Tony had issues with me and the way I do things on air. He never told me that. He never once said he disliked anything I did. He laughed all the time on the show. For whatever reason he decided to retire. I wish he would have stayed because we were kicking ass.

Q: One very public item is your well documented opposition to your competitor Mike Missanelli. You’ve referred to him on-air as “Bitchanelli” and the two of you had to be separated at Eagles training camp a few weeks ago. Where does the tension between the two of you come from? 

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A: He’s my competitor. I’m not a local guy that has long standing friendships with the other guys. I don’t want to have friendships with people from other stations. I have heard stories about how he trashed Howard Eskin when he was trying to overtake him. I know that he treated Bruno like garbage. He punched a producer and got fired. I’ve heard he’s an overall bad dude and I have no reservations about trying to destroy him. I want to win. I was brought here to win. I think his show is boring, lazy and stale. That said, we didn’t almost fight. We had a conversation and he stepped towards me but he’s a 63 year old built like my grandma. He wasn’t going to swing.

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Q: With Bruno gone, the afternoon show has been adjusted and you’re now hosting a 3-man show with former Eagles player Hollis Thomas, and the son of one of Philadelphia’s most successful talk show hosts (Howard Eskin) Spike Eskin. How does your approach change working with them versus working a two man show with an established personality like Bruno? 

A: My approach is the same. It’s a little different with 3 people but the guys I work with have an understanding of their roles. Spike is a great radio guy. He gets his role. Hollis is learning the business but he’s a sponge. I believe in making people around me better.

Q: One area you’ve made quite an impression in is social media. You’re as active as any talent out there but with that activity comes mixed responses. You’re known to engage in exchanges at times with listeners and even re-tweet some of their hate filled messages which some love and others don’t. What’s your reasoning for taking the approach that you do?

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A: My main reason for retweeting hate is that it gets my fans riled up. When people like you they rarely call or tweet to say it. They follow and listen but they don’t really respond. When a fan sees someone hating on the show they are compelled to respond. I use the same approach on air. Rarely do I take the call that says “I love the show“. If the call screen says “Josh is a loser and doesn’t belong in Philadelphia” I take that call. I’m probably screwed up in the head. Eric Bogosian in “Talk Radio” said it best “There’s nothing more boring than someone who loves you“. Retweeting a positive makes you look self serving. That said, I adore my listeners and fans.

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Q: I’ve read before that you’ve enjoyed some professional wrestling storylines, and see a natural connection between them and sports radio. How would you explain it to someone who’s not aware?

A: It’s really the WCW/WWE storyline. Eric Bischoff said “competition creates controversy and controversy creates cash“. I don’t look to create controversy in terms of my sports opinions. The WIP/WPEN battle is like a wrestling storyline. My battle with Missanelli is not only good for us but it’s good for sports radio in the market. It’s been front page news for months now.

Q: As it applies to being an on-air talent, how important do you believe it is to play an on-air character and carry a stigma about yourself in order to be successful in sports radio?

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A: I am myself on the air. I think it’s important to create an enemy in your own mind. It drives me. Its no different than athletes. They have to create the idea of an enemy.

Q: How much of what the audience hears and reads on social media is the real Josh Innes vs. the radio personality Josh Innes?

A: It’s 100% me. Every opinion is my own. It’s probably too much of me. I don’t have much of a filter. I’ll go on twitter rants about my life and get made fun of the next day. Obviously I’m performing on air and ham it up. However, when you meet me you see that everything I say on the air is real. That’s the key to relating to people.

Q: As someone who has had great success in two top-10 markets despite not being from those cities originally, what would you say is key for being successful as an out of town talent? 

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A: Be honest. Gavin didn’t like that I would tell people I am a Cardinals fan. I had to. That’s who I am. I also believe in respecting the history of the local teams and learning the market. I may be a fan of the Cardinals but I don’t hate the Phillies. I embrace the teams and root for them. I try to do it in a way that isn’t phony. It’s clear I can’t be a diehard of the teams because I haven’t been around long enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t want them to win. My audience wants them to win. My ratings will be better if they win. I think it’s important to be 100% honest with people. They may hate it at first but they’ll eventually respect it.

Q: On the subject of success, some talents believe that ratings matter and others don’t. Where do you stand on the issue?

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A: It may be a flawed system but it is the system we go by. If I don’t win I’m fired. Period. It’s like asking Bill Belichick if winning matters or if it’s how you play the game. If Belichick has back to back 5 win seasons he’s probably fired. Usually the people who say ratings don’t matter are the ones that don’t have them. In TV you can have great shows that don’t have ratings. They can survive. “Parks and Rec” had lousy ratings but made it 6 years. The same can be said for “30 Rock“. In radio there is no Emmy Award that can save a show. You have to have ratings. I eat myself up thinking about ratings. I obsess over it.

Q: If there’s one aspect of your performance that you think needs improvement, what is it? 

A: This may shock you but I think I suck. I never listen to a bit of mine and say “boy that was killer“. I listen to bits and think of all the stuff I did wrong. My mental makeup won’t allow me to think I can make it better. I will always judge myself harshly. It’s a sickness really. I judge myself on an unfair scale.

Q: You keep your eyes and ears on the industry and take a lot of pride in it. When you look at the state of sports radio today how would you describe it?

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A: Thriving but largely boring. Too many shows sound the same. Too many J-School stiffs. Everyone wants to sound like ESPN. Not enough unique personalities. Toucher and Rich in Boston is a great show. Listen to that. It’s two rock guys who have crushed sports radio. Why? Because they are funny and different. They don’t focus on sounding like everyone else.

Q: Who would you say are the 5 best talents performing in the sports radio format today?

A: Toucher and Rich, Michael Felger, Craig Carton, Angelo Cataldi, Gavin Dawson. Nationally it’s Colin Cowherd. Everyone else is a bore. These are the people who I actually seek out.

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Q: For someone who’s considering entering the industry or is trying to make the jump from a small market to a bigger stage, what advice would you pass along to them?

A: Be different. Stand out. Talk Hard. Steal The Air.

BONUS Q: Given your Missouri roots and passion for Cardinals baseball, how come you never pushed harder to come home to St. Louis?

A: Why didn’t you stay in St. Louis?

Josh Innes can be heard weekday afternoons from 2pm-6pm on Sports Radio 94 WIP in Philadelphia. You can also follow him on Twitter @JoshInnesRadio.

Sports Radio News

The Michael Kay Show Celebrates 20 Years of New York Sports Radio Excellence

“When we started, I thought it was going to be a short-term gig. 20 years – it’s really hard to fathom; it really is.”

Derek Futterman

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The appetite for sports in the New York metropolitan area has long been strong but the craving of sports radio conversation might even be stronger. The Michael Kay Show has treated fans to a surplus of memorable moments dating back to 2002 when the show began delivering informative and entertaining talk on 1050 ESPN, eventually moving to the FM dial on 98.7 ESPN, and adding a television simulcast on the YES Network in 2014.

On Friday, the program broadcast its 20th anniversary show live in front of a large, fervent crowd of New York listeners at The Palladium in Times Square. The three co-hosts were introduced by New York Knicks public address announcer and Fordham University alumnus Mike Walczewski to the roar of the crowd. Throughout the course of the live broadcast, the program welcomed several special guests and looked back at memorable moments from the past while also creating new memories.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Kay told Barrett Sports Media. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around it. 20 years is a long time. I’ve got to be honest – when we started, I thought it was going to be a short-term gig. 20 years – it’s really hard to fathom; it really is.”

Kay has co-hosted the eponymously-named program from its first day on the air, but the first voice on the station itself was actually none other than his co-host Don La Greca. Former ESPN New York executive and current President of the Broadcasters Foundation of America Tim McCarthy was responsible for pairing Kay and La Greca, but over the first three days of the show, Kay thought La Greca was there “in case the line dropped.” Once Kay received a phone call telling him he could start incorporating La Greca into the program, the dynamic of the show instantly changed. The program started utilizing its co-host rather than fully adopting a solo approach. Today, Kay calls him “the most important component” of the show and the personality who does a majority of the talking.

“It feels like it’s an appendage; it’s a part of my body [and] it’s a part of my life,” La Greca told Barrett Sports Media. “I’m 54 years old – I’ve been in the business [for] 30 years and 21 of them have been with ESPN and 20 of them have been with Michael Kay. It’s not anything that I take for granted and a day like this is really amazing; I’m so proud.”

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Mike Greenberg, current host of Get Up and NBA Countdown on ESPN, along with longtime host of #Greeny on ESPN Radio, joined the program in its first hour. While his appearance centered around discussing the New York Jets upcoming matchup against the New England Patriots this weekend in Foxborough, Mass., he recognized the magnitude of the moment and what differentiates The Michael Kay Show from other sports programs.

“There’s a reason why this show works,” said Greenberg. “Chemistry is something that is very difficult to predict, but to me it is very easy to define although people, particularly executives, have a hard time understanding this. If you didn’t have chemistry, the sum total of your show would be Michael-plus-Don-plus-Peter. Because you have chemistry, it’s Michael-times-Don-times-Peter.”

Peter Rosenberg, the third co-host of the show, concurred with the point made by Greenberg and recognizes his skillset and how he best complements those of Kay and La Greca. He joined the afternoon drive program in 2016 while simultaneously working morning drive in music radio, making him unique in that he works in both drivetime slots in two different formats in the nation’s largest market.

“We really are a different show when we’re together,” Rosenberg told Barrett Sports Media. “Each one of us brings a piece to the table that is different. It’s never the same show if we’re not all there.”

Four-time World Champion as manager of the New York Yankees Joe Torre appeared on stage to a thunderous applause. He was celebrating a 20-year anniversary with his charity, the Safe at Home Foundation, which provides services to end the cycle of violence that risks being fostered in children who have experienced traumatic events. The charity recently had an anniversary gala, an event which many former Yankees attended, and was excited to celebrate the overlap of both milestones.

“I’m happy to be here. You’ll always be special [to] me,” Torre said to Kay. “You were there during a very special time in my career and in my life, and I’ll never forget that.”

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Torre regaled the audience with a story delineating his mindset when he was trying to plan how to address the Yankees in his first spring training with the team in 1996. It was a task that was keeping him up at night, especially entering the job with a win-loss record significantly below .500. As he was working out one morning on a stairmaster machine, reading the top of a page in a motivational book by Bill Parcells gave him the answer he was looking for. “If you believe in what you do, stay with it,” Torre recalled the page saying.

“I said to the players, ‘First off, everybody on my coaching staff has been to a World Series – I haven’t. But I don’t want to win one; I want to win three in a row,’” Torre recalled. “I said that not to show off in any way, but just to let them know that if you win, it’s necessary to show people and show yourself that it wasn’t a fluke. Again, you have to have the right audience and I had some grownups in that clubhouse.”

Following Torre, New York Yankees rookie infielder Oswaldo Cabrera joined the show and discussed what it was like launching his major league career playing in the media capital of the world. Cabrera is familiar with Kay since he also serves as the television voice of the Yankees on the YES Network. As a congratulatory gift, he gifted him one of his lucky necklaces he wears during each game, along with a signed baseball card from Kay’s favorite childhood Yankee, Bobby Murcer.

After the show announced New York Jets cornerback and rookie phenom Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was running late, the show adjusted by bringing fans a live “Daily Don” of the most-talked about sports figures on the air over the duration of the show. Kay and Rosenberg both took their turns trying to guess the order of the list, taking suggestions from the audience. The panel quickly guessed Álex Rodríguez as the most-talked about sports personality over the time of the show. Former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ranked second, and rounding out the top three was Carmelo Anthony due to his stint with the New York Knicks from 2010 to 2016. Completing the top five were former New York Jets head coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan at four and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving at five.

Shortly thereafter, Kay, La Greca and Rosenberg spent time discussing New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge winning the American League Most Valuable Player award, before welcoming Kay’s YES Network booth partner David Cone. The former Yankees and Mets all-star pitcher also occupies the same role nationally on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Cone talked with the show about a number of New York baseball topics before congratulating the crew on twenty years and saying goodbye.

Following Cone’s appearance, WWE superstar Seth Rollins hit the stage in entertaining fashion, taking part in ENN with Peter Rosenberg. Rollins shared how becoming a wrestler was always his plan and there never was a Plan B before tackling a few current news and events items with the hosts. One of those stories was the arrest of Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing for drunk driving in Nashville, Tenn. following the team’s win against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc.

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“He was in Lambeau, they win the game, he gets back on the jet, and at some point he decides: ‘It’s midnight. It’s still early. Let’s go party,’” Rollins said.

“When the Yankees travel, if they’re flying anywhere into New York, there is no liquor served anywhere on the plane,” Kay added. “When you’re going into another town and going on a bus, then you may have some liquor.”

Since it was Friday, Rosenberg closed out the segment by making viewers aware of the announcing duos on the local and national NFL games of the week. He noted how both the Jets and the Giants play at 1pm, a scheduling decision that makes it difficult for New York sports fans to watch their football teams that both have a chance to qualify for the NFL playoffs.

Up next was New York Jets rookie sensation Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner. The star defensive back joined the show to discuss his first year in the NFL, becoming a New York fan favorite, and securing a partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings which included the creation of his own custom hot sauce, playing off of his signature nickname. Gardner talked about managing pressure through practice and preparation, and the upcoming AFC East showdown with the New England Patriots.

As the live broadcast ended, The Michael Kay Show thanked all of its listeners both in-person and listening from afar, concluding the program receiving a standing ovation. Kay brought Joey Salvia on stage, an original member of the program who performed the program’s theme song in its first year, along with 98.7 ESPN New York Program Director Ryan Hurley.

“The only way that you could last on the air in any city is if people listen to you, and that’s what you people have done,” Kay told the audience. “You’ve allowed us to come into your home and your car for these last 20 years, [and] we can’t thank you enough. We love you like family. We can’t believe that you came out on this Friday night. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Who knows if there’s going to be a 30th or a 40th, but let’s aim for it.”

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Once the radio show concluded, the lights were dimmed for Michael Kay Unplugged, a two-hour program referred to as the “bacchanal” containing roasts and a “Reverse Centerstage” panel reflecting on the show’s run and its future. Good Karma Brands CEO Craig Karmazin addressed the room before the event started, thanking the show for being great teammates. Along with Good Karma’s executive vice president Debbie Brown, and president Steve Politziner, the management team presented Don, Michael and Peter with custom hand-painted commemorative plates to commemorate twenty years of on-air success.

Karmazin then pitched to a prerecorded video message from Turner Sports and MLB Network commentator Bob Costas to kick things off before ESPN New York hosts Dave Rothenberg, Chris Carlin and Rick DiPietro took the stage. Once the trio of New York sports talkers grabbed hold of live microphones, the jokes and ribbing began. Rothenberg and Carlin hypothesized about what La Greca would be like if he held other types of jobs. They then took aim at Rosenberg’s music album and compared his gift-giving ability to Tim Tebow’s quarterback talent before turning their attention to Kay and busting his chops for being too sensitive while labeling him the “Gary Cohen” of talk show hosts.

Carlin then got serious and told the audience how special The Michael Kay Show is. In addition to being good friends, Carlin shared how they have the ability to make you feel like you’re home no matter where you’re listening from. He spoke about radio as a medium for cultivating and maintaining a community and thanked the station’s listeners for continuing to support the brand through changes in media dissemination and consumption.

“The word that just comes to mind listening to you guys is joy,” Carlin said. “I think we can all agree we have not experienced a ton of joy over the last few years. I listen to these guys, and immediately I’m smiling, I’m laughing; I’m having a good time.”

Rothenberg echoed that sentiment by reminiscing on how through his radio career, there have been many professionals in the industry who are “awful people.” He feels fortunate to be at a station with a congenial atmosphere and longevity, bringing New York sports fans informative and entertaining talk about their favorite teams.

“I think of everyone at the station,” Rothenberg said. “We have an amazing camaraderie here.”

Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo then made a guest appearance hosting a reverse CenterStage, referencing the YES Network interview show Kay hosts, and asking the co-hosts of The Michael Kay Show questions about their careers and what such longevity has meant to them. Russo famously co-hosted Mike and the Mad Dog with Mike Francesa on WFAN from 1989 to 2008, a 19-year run. Both afternoon drive shows battled it out in the ratings and understood the perspectives they brought to New York sports fans, satisfying their hunger for live and local content.

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“I grew up listening to you,” La Greca told Russo. “I grew up wanting to be in sports radio. I grew up listening to Steve Somers after the Mets games; calling the show to talk about my teams, dreaming I’d get a chance to do this. All I wanted to do was to do a talk show; that’s all I ever dreamt about doing.”

La Greca worked at WFAN while Francesa and Russo broadcast their hit program, but changed broadcast outlets after earning an opportunity to join the local ESPN radio station in New York. Before starting as a talk show host, Kay himself recalled asking Francesa and Russo for advice on being a radio host while he was doing pregame and postgame coverage for the New York Knicks on MSG Networks.

“Chris couldn’t have been nicer and he’s giving me all of this advice,” Kay recalled. “Mike goes, ‘Why would I give you advice? Who are you? You might be competition one day,’ and he walked away.”

Rosenberg joined the show in late 2015 and has brought his eclectic background and jocose personality to the airwaves. When he began matriculating at the University of Maryland, he met other students who were aggressive in their pursuit of a career in sports media, dissuading Rosenberg and forcing him to consider another way to get on the radio. He began hosting music programs, found his way to New York where he’s now a big part of the morning show on Hot 97, and is thankful that his path led him to being able to discuss his two biggest passions, sports and music.

“As much as I loved sports, I wanted to get on the radio,” Rosenberg said. “I simultaneously adored Funkmaster Flex and Bob Costas. The fact that I ended up here is just such a dream come true.”

After Don, Michael and Peter talked about their love for radio, and the different roads they took to get to ESPN New York, Russo mentioned the competitive battle in afternoon drive. Mike Francesa beat the show in the ratings for a long period of time on WFAN but eventually the tables turned. Kay told Mad Dog he could pinpoint exactly when the momentum shifted. He singled out Francesa traveling to Atlanta for Super Bowl week in 2019, a tradition that Mike and Chris started. Kay felt the show that year would be better served not making the trip and instead doing their normal program from their New York radio studio.

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As luck would have it, on January 31st of 2019, the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks after it was widely reported that he asked to be moved. When Porzingis was dealt, the show went full steam ahead attacking the biggest New York sports story. Because Francesa was in Atlanta and swamped with Super Bowl guests, he wasn’t able to do the same. Kay called it a “watershed moment,” which allowed the show to gain additional listeners and eventually pass Francesa in the ratings.

Michael Kay, Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg have developed a distinct sound and attracted large listenership for 98.7 ESPN New York in afternoon drive. Friday’s event was a reminder that there are people who are devoted listeners to the show who value the unique connection fostered by radio as a broadcast medium. While listeners are not usually present as the show is taking place, they are indeed a part of the experience no matter where they are and figure to keep listening as New York’s longest-tenured sports afternoon radio program continues its run.

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Sports Radio News

Former 590 The Fan Host Jay Randolph Jr. Dies

“He looked at me blank in the face and I said ‘Is it bad?’ He said ‘Real bad’.”

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Longtime 590 The Fan host Jay Randolph Jr. has died.

A fixture in St. Louis sports radio, Randolph Jr. shared he had been diagnosed with liver cancer late last month. He said on The Morning After last week he was given three-to-four months to live.

“It’s a shocker,” he said. “When you sit down in the chair with the (doctor), you’re thinking he’s going to say, ‘We can do this, we can do that, we can do chemo.’ He looked at me blank in the face and I said ‘Is it bad?’ He said ‘Real bad’.”

He jokingly then quipped “other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”

In addition to his work at 590 The Fan, Randolph Jr. also spent time at SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. His father, Jay Randolph, is a Hall of Fame sportscaster, working as the play-by-play announcer for the West Virginia Mountaineers, Dallas Cowboys, SMU Mustangs, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, Cincinnati Reds, and Florida Marlins, in addition to his work with NBC Sports.

A GoFundMe account was created after he announced his cancer diagnosis. It has currently raised more than $50,000.

He was 53 years old.

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Sports Radio News

Asheville Sports Radio Host Pat Ryan Dies

“Pat’s passion was infectious, his presence, professionalism, enthusiasm, and positive attitude were an inspiration to the lives he touched.”

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Longtime Asheville, North Carolina sports radio host Pat Ryan has died.

Ryan co-hosted The WISE Guys on 1310 WISE since it began in 2005. He also helped facilitate the station carrying UNC-Asheville women’s basketball.

“WISE Sports Radio and The Asheville Radio Group are deeply saddened by the passing of WISE Host Pat Ryan,” Asheville Radio Group Market President Tom Davis told The (Asheville) Citizen-Times. “Pat’s passion was infectious, his presence, professionalism, enthusiasm, and positive attitude were an inspiration to the lives he touched. The joyful and courageous way that he lived his life is an example for all of us. His smile and bright soul will shine forever in our hearts. Please put Pat’s wife Kathleen and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Ryan was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. He was 57.

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