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ESPN 1000 Looks To Get Stronger With The Chicago Bears

“There’s credibility with ESPN, there’s credibility with the Sox, there’s credibility with the Bears. I think we were already strong. Now we’re just even stronger.”

Derek Futterman

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For the last 22 seasons, radio broadcasts of the NFL’s Chicago Bears have aired on Audacy-owned WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM. Now, its flagship station and live game broadcasts are set to move to ESPN 1000, owned and operated by Good Karma Brands, beginning at the start of next season in a multiyear agreement.

“We were incredibly impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the leadership team at Good Karma Brands,” Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement included in the team’s press release. “Their plan for presenting Bears football on the radio is first class and we know that ESPN 1000 will be an excellent home for our games and an axis for Bears talk year-round. We look forward to working with the station beginning in 2023.”

There had been much speculation regarding the broadcast rights for the team with reports in June indicating three stations were involved in the bidding, according to Daily Herald media columnist Robert Feder.

In the end, ESPN 1000 Chicago has earned the distinction of adding an NFL team to its slate of programming and live game broadcasts, which also includes all games for Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox. In a span of nearly three years, the brand secured its second professional media rights agreement, and the first under new market manager Keith Williams.

“I think it all started with a conversation back in March where we were just asking questions about their needs, their goals and their ideas,” Williams told Barrett Sports Media. “Over the next few months, [it was] just conversations, developing relationships and understanding what would make the most sense for us and for them to form a partnership.”

Although ESPN 1000 was acquired by Good Karma Brands as part of a larger transaction earlier this year, the station has been operated by the company since October 2019. As a competitor to 670 The Score, ESPN 1000 continuously seeks to distinguish itself from others in the marketplace, or as Williams puts it: “Much like our company always does – when others zig, we zag.”

While they are unable to disclose specific changes that will take place under the agreement since it takes into effect at the start of next season, management at ESPN 1000 Chicago knows the Bears are central to covering sports in “The Windy City.”

“The Bears are the biggest team in town,” said ESPN 1000 Director of Content Danny Zederman. “Even though we’re not the home of the Bears currently, we’re still talking Bears from the minute we [go] on the air… to the minute we go off the air; however, we’re not going to treat the Bears as just 17 games. It’s a 365-day a year product.”

As part of the new media rights agreement, ESPN 1000 Chicago figures to gain more access to players, coaches and other team personnel. Additionally, it will air pregame and postgame programming, along with an additional Bears show once per week, according to Zederman, to maintain its coverage of the team which he says is “the best in the business.”

Just how the addition of the team will impact its ratings is yet to be seen – but it will now have the radio rights to two professional teams just as Audacy-owned 670 The Score does with the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

“We’re not worried about that,” Williams said of the effect the deal may have on ratings. “We’re worried about putting the best product out to our fans that we have. If we can satisfy our fans and get results for our advertising partners, that’s what Good Karma Brands is all about.”

As the implementation of digital platforms and creating content tailored towards listeners proliferates in emphasis across the industry, ESPN 1000 Chicago will seek to remain at the forefront of innovation. Moreover, it will continue to produce and distribute content to consumers to ensure the brand is able to satisfy the overall fandom and aspiration that exists for entertaining and compelling coverage.

“As the radio industry pivots, we are going to pivot and grow with it,” Zederman expressed. “Any way we can reach the fans and provide them with something that they want to consume, we’re going to be there and doing it.”

For companies or brands looking to advertise, game broadcasts give them the ability to reach specific demographics within somewhat of a captive audience fixated on the gridiron. Since coverage of both the White Sox and the Bears will be year round on ESPN 1000 Chicago starting in the 2023 NFL season, advertising partners will have the ability to disseminate their messages to listeners and the potential to reach new sectors of the marketplace.

“In today’s time-shifted world of podcasts and recorded television programs, where ears and eyeballs are is in live sports,” Williams said. “Our belief is that the fans will be there; they’ll be listening and what better way to get your brand and your product out there from a marketing standpoint for some of our advertising partners to do it inside and around the game.”

Since its loss of the Chicago Bulls in 2016, ESPN 1000 did not have professional broadcast rights, although it was airing games for both Notre Dame football and University of Illinois Flames men’s basketball.

Nonetheless, one could argue the brand was losing potential streams of both revenue and listenership, thus weakening its position in the marketplace. Yet it has remained in steady competition with competing brands both inside and outside of radio, and now continues to strengthen its standing as the broadcast home of professional baseball and football teams.

“E-S-P-N are four of the most powerful letters in sports,” Zederman said, “and in the city of Chicago, there’s not a more powerful team than the Chicago Bears. I think that marriage speaks for itself.”

“The brand’s already strong,” added Williams. “We are ESPN 1000. Adding the Bears in addition to having the White Sox just continues to elevate everything. There’s credibility with ESPN, there’s credibility with the Sox, there’s credibility with the Bears. I think we were already strong. Now we’re just even stronger.”

There exists a distinct possibility that come opening week next season, the Chicago White Sox, led by new manager Pedro Grifol and young stars Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez, could find themselves in contention for a playoff berth with the hopes of it culminating into a deep postseason run.

With that possibility comes the chance that the White Sox may be playing in a postseason game while the Bears are on the field, creating a quandary for ESPN 1000 Chicago; however, a plan is already in place if that situation were to arise.

“If the White Sox are in the playoffs, they will be on ESPN 1000,” Williams said, “and the Chicago Bears will be on a conflict station that we will determine in the future.”

As the new flagship station for the Chicago Bears starting next season, ESPN 1000 Chicago and the team will work to collaborate and maintain a mutually-beneficial, professional relationship with the goal of generating success.

Although that term is implicative of a connotative definition up for interpretation by those in different industries, it is quite bilateral in sports media from the perspectives of content and revenue, two properties which ostensibly garner a dependency on one another.

“If our advertising partners are increasing their business, it means we have a lot of fans that are listening to their message,” Williams said. “If the fanbase is there and they’re supporting our advertising partners, then that is success to us. I guess the flip side of that too is just… are the Bears happy with the broadcast and the coverage that we’re providing because they are partners with us in this venture.”

The city of Chicago has not had sports radio on the FM dial over the last several years – the HD2 partnership between Good Karma Brands and Hubbard Radio notwithstanding – yet it is still able to attract listeners on AM and various digital platforms.

As radio continues to utilize innovations in technology and adapt within the crowded sports media landscape, ESPN 1000 Chicago management believes that consumers know where to go to receive the best content.

“It doesn’t matter where you are on the dial,” Williams said. “I think if you’re putting out enough good content, people will find a way to get to you.”

With the addition of the Bears to its airwaves, along with the existing partnership with the White Sox and vast array of talk shows, ESPN 1000 Chicago looks to be a leader in the evolution of sports media. In so doing, it intends to utilize new technologies and methods in reaching both its dedicated listeners and those who occasionally tune in to the station or consume its content on digitally-based platforms.

“The more we can continue to push our team and just sports radio in general to educate, to inform, but most importantly [to] entertain, is going to grow fanbases and bring people to the format,” Williams said. “Obviously whether that’s live; whether that’s time-shifted with podcasts or videocasts or whatever ends up happening here in the future, we have to be fun; we have to do it in a fun way, present it with personality and grow from there.”

Since sports fans are easily able to find out the latest scores, statistics and news about their favorite teams or players through the internet, the compelling draw of sports radio is in its personalities. Even so, people can tune in to radio shows on-demand, diminishing the impact live programming has on the industry.

Yet with sporting events, fans want to be tapped in regarding the latest action and express their fandom through social media or mediated forms of communication; therefore, they opt to listen live and remain on the station during advertising. Part of the reason football fans enjoy listening to games on radio as well is because it is the medium on which local broadcasters are heard since the commentators in the television booths broadcast games nationally, and thus are subject to change by the week.

“The only thing you don’t consume on-demand are live games,” Zederman said. “You want to see the action when it’s happening; you want to hear the action when it’s happening. If you’re a Twitter person, you want to react with the fans on Twitter as the action’s happening. Having live games, be it the White Sox or the Bears, is a game-changer for us because people come to hear live sports; that’s what it’s all about.”

“We’re aggressive to grow our fanbase; we’re aggressive to get live sports on the air,” added Williams. “Combining that with ESPN will lift everyone’s brand.”

ESPN 1000 Chicago will officially become the flagship radio station for the Chicago Bears at the start of the new NFL league year in March 2023. The remainder of Bears games this season will be broadcast on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM, along with TUDN Deportes Radio 1200 AM and Latino Mix 93.5 FM.

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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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