Sports Radio News
Personality Profile: Kirk McEwen
When you talk to Kirk McEwen, you can’t help but be in a good mood after the conversation. His energy, love for life and passion for sports, music and fun are very easy to recognize.
The morning man for 98.7 The Fan in Tampa has a radio background that seems to have become a bigger attraction to sports talk radio programmers across the country today. While he currently patrols the airwaves as a sports radio personality, his prior experience and success have come as an air talent in the rock radio format.
Kirk’s career started in Baltimore where he worked for legendary rock station 98 Rock. He was hired to work part-time on the weekends and eventually earned a promotion to host evenings. While doing radio for 98 Rock was exciting, when DC 101 in Washington DC came calling, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
For the next 3 years Kirk established himself on the DC 101 airwaves and became a fixture in the market but soon he found himself being pulled back home to 98 Rock. He hosted nights, afternoons and finally mornings, where he’d become one third of the highly successful “Kirk, Mark and Lopez Show“. KML was instrumental in launching the career of Larry the Cable Guy and was voted “Best Morning Radio Show” in 2004 by Baltimore Magazine.
While the show became a mainstream success in the Baltimore market, it would suffer a crushing blow in 2005 when Kirk’s on-air partner (Lopez) would lose his battle with cancer. Kirk and Mark would remain on 98 Rock until 2006 but then they’d make a move across town to WHFS where they’d take over mornings.
The opportunity at WHFS would be short-lived but Kirk would rebound, landing on his feet at 105.9 The Edge where he’d return to hosting mornings, this time alongside Mike O’Meara. The show had enjoyed a solid 23-month run when a format change occurred and Kirk was once again left on the outside looking in.
As many in the industry know, sometimes a short-term setback can lead to a better long-term situation and after a 10-month break, Kirk was hired by CBS to head south to Tampa to help launch a brand new sports radio station, 98.7 The Fan! Upon arriving in the sunshine state, Kirk was paired with former NHL player Chris Dingman to form the “Kirk and Dinger” show and he’s been a fixture on the Tampa sports radio scene ever since.
On the personal side, Kirk is a self-proclaimed “military brat,” whose father served in the U.S. Air Force. He was born in Berlin – the youngest of six kids and is the younger brother of former CBS “This Morning” personality Mark McEwen. He is also multi-talented, with a side career in stand-up comedy and music. He’s opened up for comedians Daniel Tosh, Tommy Davidson and Larry the Cable Guy and his band (The Kirk McEwen Band) have opened up for groups such as Cinderella, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Matchbox 20.
I reached out to Kirk to pick his brain on his radio career, the transition into sports talk radio and to understand how he blends his various backgrounds into his daily show and I found him to be very engaging, upbeat and interesting. I think you’ll enjoy reading the conversation.
Q: Prior to entering radio, who were some of the personalities you enjoyed listening to who led you to want to explore this medium?
A: My brother was instrumental in leading me down this path. He loved his job and was good at it and had a lot of success on a number of great stations all over the country as well as on television. He worked on CBS This Morning and the Early Show and there’s no question he was a strong influence. Another guy who I liked a lot was Tony Colter. He’s on Sirius now but was on 98 Rock in Baltimore and DC 101 (stations I also worked at) and he was a friend of the family and someone who knew how to have fun playing rock and roll.
Q: What was your first job and what responsibilities did you have?
A: Chuck DuCoty gave me my first job at WMUC which was a college radio station in Maryland. I went in for an internship and one of the DJ’s had broken some albums after learning that he was only getting 38 hours per week instead of 40 (which back then meant you weren’t considered full-time) so my internship quickly became a job. I started out doing some weekend work and climbed up the ladder from there.
Q: In addition to being a radio personality, you also possess a background as a stand up comedian and musician. How do those experiences help you in what you do each day on the radio?
A: Humor is good in any format and when you can make people laugh that keeps an audience interested. When I first started out doing radio I’d be thinking about which of my friends or family were listening and what they might say to me afterwards. When I’m performing comedy or music, I’m usually in front of people that I don’t know and that helps because I’m not worried as much about what they might think. If I’m being heckled or if the lights on stage don’t work, that forces me to have to pull my act together and prove to the audience that I’m a strong entertainer even when the situation is challenging and the same thing applies to doing morning radio!
Q: Your brother Mark was very successful in the media industry. Did his achievements make it easier or more difficult for you to establish yourself?
A: It made it easier for me to get noticed because people would want to talk to me because of who my brother was. He’s no longer in the public eye and I miss that because he was great at what he did. I gained a lot of opportunities that I might not have received if I wasn’t Mark McEwen’s brother. The challenge though was getting people to remember who I was because half the time they’d be like “Oh your Mark’s brother“.
Q: Some of your biggest career success came in Baltimore and Washington DC where you worked for rock stations DC 101 and 98 Rock. What do you attribute your success to in each of those places?
A: My passion for music and love for people played a big part in helping me succeed there. Growing up, my brother had one of the coolest jobs in the world to me and so I thought it would be great to do the same thing. When you’re on the radio and you’re talking to people, they don’t care what you look like, they just want to be part of the conversation with you. I think my ability to relate and connect with people helped me a lot in those two places.
Q: In 2012 you moved to Tampa and entered the sports radio format, joining 98.7 The Fan. Why did you think this format would be a good fit for you?
A: I’ve always loved sports. I used to play stratomatic baseball and go to games and it’s always been a part of my life. In 1988 Ken Singleton played baseball and was doing part time work on the weekends in Baltimore on Channel 13. When he left to go to NY they held a contest to replace him and I finished 2nd because the station thought I would become good and leave since my brother was a known broadcaster. They were right about that but it allowed me to get some experience on tape doing sports and I thought it was something I could do really well. After my situation in Baltimore ended, I had heard that the story on me was that I was lazy and it was the furthest thing from the truth. I went up to NY and told my agent that I’d like to have a chat with Chris Olivero and Scott Herman to clear the air. I showed up in my Len Dawson jersey and we talked for a while and everyone agreed to start with a clean slate. A few months later my agent called me and asked if I’d entertain moving to Tampa and I said yes and I’ve been here ever since.
Q: As you began your run with 98.7 The Fan, you were initially paired with former NHL player Chris Dingman on the “Kirk and Dinger” show. How would you summarize that show and what led to it being changed?
A: It was interesting. You had a black guy from the mid-Atlantic and a Canadian hockey player and we were thrown into a room and told “go”! We had to create the image of the show and get a feel for each other and we ended up having some success but it was a challenge for us to find that groove. I was new to the market and Chris had never done radio before, let alone a morning show and so we made it the best we could given the circumstances.
Q: With Dinger gone, you’ve added Jesse Kage to the show, who like yourself, has a background in rock radio. Why does his addition to the show excite you?
A: I get a feel for people really fast. When you hear Jesse talk, he’s very educated. The dude has a bald head, tattoos and a huge goatee and he’s friends with everyone. He’s younger than me and we come from different backgrounds yet have a lot in common so we’re able to bring good balance to one another. There are times during the year when you can’t over analyze a game and you need to be able to entertain people and it’s easy to do that with Jesse. This pairing feels really natural.
Q: What do you tell a Tampa sports radio listener who might be concerned that the show will have too much guy talk and not enough sports talk?
A: We will talk sports and have good guests on and the goal for us is to make people think and interact. We’re also guys though who like a number of different things and we want to be able to let people in on our lives. There will be a good mix for everyone to enjoy and it will be built around our personalities. The hardcore stuff such as doing game breakdowns isn’t what we do. There’s another local outlet available that can give people that style of show.
Q: On the show you also include Roxanne Wilder and Special Ed Grube. Why do you believe it’s important to utilize a supporting cast on a radio show?
A: When you can include different people in a show it provides more interesting viewpoints. Roxanne for example is very sports savvy and brings things to the table that are different than what Jesse and I do. When the whole Ray Rice thing happened we wanted a female perspective on it and she can do that and do it really well. Special Ed on the other hand is crafty at writing songs and creating bits for the show and having that mix of people contributing to the success of the show keeps it fun and loose.
Q: When you guys step back and look at the “Kirk and Kage” show, what is the mission statement for the program?
A: It’s sports with a jagged edge. There might be some similarities to what Toucher and Rich do in Boston but we have our own style. We’re not a hardcore sports show but we know there are times to be serious and times to be funny and we want to provide a good mix.
Q: When it comes to improving your show, how do you measure improvement? How often does your show meet and what do you look to accomplish in that meeting?
A: We call my boss (PD John McConnell) “Johnny Sports Guy” and he’ll get in and listen and we’ll chat in his office about the show but it’s a feel thing. We’re always thinking of things we can do to make it better and we’ll text a lot or talk in person and point out things that have to be stronger. It’s really about regular communication and everyone feeling they’ve got a say in the show.
Q: To someone on the outside who isn’t familiar with the Tampa sports radio market, how would you describe it?
A: It’s challenging because there are beaches, good concerts, families with pools who want to relax and enjoy the sunshine and to get their attention you need to put a winner on the field. Even if you do, people may still not check it out. But I like it because the challenge makes it fun. Football is king here even though the stands may not reflect it. The Lightning sell out all the time and the Rays have great TV ratings even though the in stadium attendance isn’t high. There are also a ton of transplants here so fan allegiances are diverse and that allows us to branch out from time to time.
Q: As you reflect on your career and all you have accomplished, what is some of the best advice you were given that you still utilize today? Who gave it to you?
A: My brother told me “when you talk, if you smile, you can’t help but be in a good mood”. People don’t want to wake up and hear someone on the radio who’s miserable. I love being able to talk and have fun and I pride myself on being a brother in rock and roll. There aren’t a lot of black guys doing this format who haven’t played professional sports and I think that helps me in standing out.
Q: What is one area where you believe sports radio needs to evolve?
A: People doing this need to have more fun. This ain’t your dad’s Buick. Most of us didn’t play the game and we don’t need to apologize for that. It’s about guys having fun, sharing opinions and not worrying about being wrong. There’s too much emphasis on hard hitting information in some places and I think shows can hit on issues that guys like and enjoy themselves a little more.
Q: If there’s anything you can offer to someone who’s just entering this industry and trying to develop a career in it, what would it be?
A: Years ago I would have advised people to get into radio. I’m not sure today if I would. People aren’t listening to radio as heavily as they used to. Now they’re podcasting and doing social media. However, if you’re passionate about it and really want it, work hard at learning as much as you can, find a mentor, and work on developing your own style. Trying to be someone else doesn’t work. Be yourself and be comfortable with it.
Kirk McEwen can be heard weekday mornings in Tampa from 6am-9am on 98.7 The Fan. You can also follow his show “Kirk and Kage” on Twitter by clicking here.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Sports Radio News
Jay Williams Calls Listener, Forces Him To Pay Their $1000 Lakers Bet
“Don’t get me on national TV and radio and then not pick up the phone when I call.”
If you owe Jay Williams money, he is going to find you. Just ask Rob, a listener in Orlando who bet the ESPN Radio morning man that the Lakers would advance to the NBA Finals.
Last week, Rob called Keyshawn, JWill and Max and bet Williams $1000 the Lakers would eliminate the Denver Nuggets. Williams said if that happened, he would pay Rob $1500.
Obviously, that is not the way things played out. On Tuesday morning, Jay Williams called Rob demanding payment.
“He owes me my money,” he said. “So you know what we do? We got Detective Pat on the call today. Pat, let’s give this man a call. See if this guy picks up, trying to run away from giving me my money.”
The show’s associate producer Patrick Costello called the number Rob left last week. On the first attempt, the listener did not pick up. Williams vowed to keep up the pressure on social media and national radio and television until he got paid.
“Don’t get me on national TV and radio and then not pick up the phone when I call.”
“You know, getting that money is a wrap, Jay,” Keyshawn Johnson said through laughter. “I told you that.”
The show made one more attempt to connect with Rob before having to turn things over to Greeny. This time, the Lakers fan picked up and acknowledged that he had to pay. He offered to make a donation in Williams’s name.
“I’ll send you my bank account here privately, and then I will send it to the charity of my choice,” Williams agreed.
Rob agreed to the arrangement. Williams asked him if he wanted to apologize for doubting the basketball analyst’s prediction of the Lakers’ demise.
“Apologize? I need the Lakers to apologize to me after that performance,” Rob said. “Because Jesus Christ, that was horrible. That was bad.”
Sports Radio News
Stoney & Jansen on LeBron James Retirement Talk: ‘NBA Needs Offseason Stories’
“I think we pick and choose with him. I think I’ve been too hard on him and I’m kind of realizing that.”
As the Los Angeles Lakers exited the court after being swept by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals on Monday night, a grim reality set in across the basketball world regarding the future of forward LeBron James. Widely regarded as one of the best players to ever suit up, James is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, a 19-time All Star selection, four-time MVP, and four-time NBA champion.
During his postgame media availability on Monday, he stated that he had to seriously think about his future, undoubtedly referencing retirement. James just completed his 20th season in the Association and continues to play at a high level, but is going to think about walking away from the game after falling short of the NBA Finals this year.
“He’s been a pretty good soldier for the game,” said Tom Milikan, morning show producer and assistant program director at 97.1 The Ticket. “There’s been some things I haven’t agreed with him [on] that he’s liked or tweeted or whatever. I think he’s had some ignorance, but I think that applies to every single athlete out there that’s great.”
Throughout his NBA career, James has been the subject of criticism. The ESPN special he participated in titled The Decision saw him reveal he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. He is also a frequent subject across the network’s programming, including on Get Up, First Take and NBA Today.
“I think we pick and choose with him,” Millikan said. “I think I’ve been too hard on him and I’m kind of realizing that.”
Show co-host Mike Stone read messages from the 97.1 The Ticket text line during the show, many of which criticized James for being a “flopping” player desperate for any semblance of attention since he will not be in the NBA Finals. One text suggested his revelation of weighing retirement was done intentionally, surmising that he has a film documentary crew around him and coming back stronger than ever would make for a great story.
“The league needs some offseason stories,” Millikan said. “From what I know, the free agency class is not all that great this year – and one of the big names is Kyrie Irving, and that’s toxic. It’s sort of like, ‘Hey, maybe they’re generating buzz or trying to do the whole Brady thing.’ So be it – I’ve seen it 15 times in my life.”
Stone recognized that athletes like James are genuinely once-in-a-generation type talents, and that his time in the NBA has been defined by more than what he has done on the court. James has also been an immense advocate for greater causes, including social issues, youth education and community affairs. Whenever he decides to call it a career though, fans should rest assured that James has truly given the game everything he has.
“I want to see the best that they have for as long as possible,” show co-host Jon Jansen said of star athletes. “If they end up playing too long, so be it. I don’t care. Then I know I’ve [seen] it all.”
Sports Radio News
Danny Parkins: NFL Teams ‘Don’t Really Care About Your In-Stadium Experience’
“In one year of Al Michaels complaining about the games, they’ve changed two huge rules around it.”
On Monday at the NFL Owners’ Meetings, flex scheduling for Amazon Prime Video’s presentation of Thursday Night Football was approved 24-8. Games can only be flexed between Weeks 13 and 17 with 28 days notice required. Additionally, a maximum of two games can be flexed per season, with the entire operation being on “a trial basis.”
“In one year of Al Michaels complaining about the games, they’ve changed two huge rules around it,” said Danny Parkins on 670 The Score as the news broke Monday. “[The] first rule already happened, and the Bears are one of the teams that either benefit or are victimized by the rule depending on your interpretation. You can play on multiple Thursdays this year. You can’t play multiple road Thursdays, but the Bears have two Thursday night games – in Washington and home against Carolina.”
In an effort to broadcast compelling action on a national stage, the National Football League did not give all of its 32 teams at least one game on national television this season. Conversely, the New York Jets, complete with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will be featured on national television for the maximum of six times, including two matchups on Thursday Night Football. The Jets, along with the Chicago Bears, dissented from voting in favor of flexible scheduling, but Parkins assumes it has nothing to do with the fans.
“My guess is [it is] because they already have two Thursday night games,” Parkins said. “Maybe they’re just altruistic and they care about fans and travel and all that, but I bet you that they said, ‘Well, we’re playing in Week 5 in Washington and Week 10 at home against Carolina. We don’t want to risk Bears-Browns or Bears-Falcons being flexed into Thursday Night Football later in the season and end up with three Thursday night games.’”
Many football fans and media professionals have pushed back on granting the property any type of flex scheduling because of the negative impact it has on injury prevention, something that is not as pronounced with other properties solely because of the day of the week. Sunday Night Football on NBC was previously the only property with flex scheduling ability, and Monday Night Football on ESPN is being granted that ability between Weeks 12 and 17 with at least 12 days notice.
“They don’t really care about your in-stadium experience – they don’t,” Parkins said of the league. “As long as you watch on TV, they’re thrilled because that’s where they make a huge, ungodly percentage of their money – more so than any of the other sports.”