I've recently been doing these Top 5 lists, because everyone does Top 10 Lists and hey--I'm tired. So, I asked sports broadcaster Gary Radnich to give me the top 5 things that have most affected his career and personal life. Gary Radnich has survived and thrived for more than 26 years in the Bay Area sports broadcasting scene, as the sports director at KRON-TV, a radio host on KNBR “The Sports Leader” and as a sports commentator for Comcast SportsNet. He’s an icon, a legend and still standing after many years, because while the technology and everyone around him has changed, Radnich has always stayed exactly the same.
Fab Five #1: His father
While other parents shushed their kids and discouraged them from drawing attention to themselves, Evelyn and Bill Radnich proudly watched their son as he grew up and discovered his own patented showboating style while playing basketball in the late ‘60’s at Del Mar and Branham High Schools in Gary’s hometown of San Jose, Calif., and then later at BYU and UNLV.
With an encouraging team supporting him every step of the way, Radnich wasn’t afraid to try and fail at almost anything—a quality that later helped him in his career’s infancy, he said. “My parents were everything to me. I took a lot of chances on the air, especially during those early years, because I knew I had a mother and father 100% behind me no matter what I did. If things ever fall apart, I can always go back to San Jose and move right back into my old room, I figured. I was real lucky.”
Gary’s relationship with his late father is the prime reason why he’s succeeded in an industry where people are lucky if they can work in the same spot for more than a couple years, let along 26, Radnich explained.
“When my father passed (in 2003) it was tough and I’m still not over it. He never missed one of my shows and he always gave me some great advice, like ‘Jeez, don’t force it or try to be too funny’; ‘Wake up, you look like you’re sleeping’; or ‘If they’re paying you, go out there and do your best.” He was a three-time Golden Gloves boxing champ, a center on the basketball team at San Jose State in the late ‘30’s and everyone loved him. I miss him, that’s for sure.”
Fabe Five #2: His family
At this stage in their lives, most guys don’t have three kids in grade school (Jolie 10.5 years old; Isabella, 6.5 and Spencer, 3.5), but when Radnich met his second wife Alicia 12 years ago, he was ready to start a family all over again. (Gary has three grown children, Kelly, Douglas and Stephanie from his first marriage). Fabulous things can happen in life when you least expect them and Alicia fits nicely into one of those categories, Radnich admitted with a grin.
“We met at work (she was a show producer) and our first date was a causal dinner. I was glad when I found out that Alicia wanted a family, because she could have said hey, here’s some lonesome old guy with some bucks, take me out and I’ll help you spend your money. So, when she told me she wanted a regular family and she wasn’t just using me for a job, I knew she was legit. She’s a housewife, because I don’t want someone else raising my children.”
Even in liberal San Francisco, Gary still gets strange looks when he walks around in public with his wife and children, he said. “When I walk down the street with Alicia and the kids, we still get stares to this day, because she’s Afro-American and my kids are what I call a nice blend. Sometimes when I notice it happening, I’ll walk over to the person and say, ‘What’s upsetting you? I’m just curious. Is she too young or too black?’ It surprises them and they usually mutter something like, ‘Oh no, she’s a lovely woman, I just….’ I do it every three months or so, I guess, and I love the reactions every time.”
Fabe #3: (Professional) Friendships
Radnich never gets too close to athletes or coaches, he said, and that’s also why he’s able to ask the tougher questions without hesitation. “I’ve never idolized a player and I won’t hang out with them, because if I want to rip a guy later, I don’t want to have to think about it. And I won’t take a free meal from any team or any player, because it’s harder to talk about someone objectively when you’ve got a mouth full of their food.”
Gary doesn’t get warm or fuzzy with any interviewee, but there have been a few exceptions over the years, he said. One of those was with the late Bill Walsh. Over the years, the coach and the sportscaster became as close as their professional friendship would allow, Radnich said.
“Bill gave me a lot of praise, but he also put a bug in my ear all the time. ‘You’re doing pretty good right now’, he’d tell me. ‘But remember that talking about sports is what got you here. In any story you tell, it has to have a thread of sports in there. It was really good advice. Walsh criticized me in a nice way a few times and I always appreciated that. He had a big heart and he was a good soul.”
Two other athletes who almost broke the Radnich “don’t get too close” rule are Ronnie Lott and former A’s all-star pitcher Dave Stewart, he explained.
“Both these guys would do anything for you. Lott broke his leg in Green Bay one time and he still flew back here to do my Sunday night show. We couldn’t believe it. The only two guys who wouldn’t take the limousine were Ronnie Lott and Dave Stewart. Those are my two favorite players, and for that reason. One player (whose name Gary didn’t want to mention, but his initials are T.O.) didn’t like it when we sent him a town car instead of a limo one time, but Lott and Stewart could care less, and that’s why I always like them.”
Fab #4: Being fortunate
In broadcasting, there’s always a certain amount of luck involved—some good and bad. A decent ratings book, an interview that makes news or being in the right place at the right time can boost a broadcaster’s career overnight.
Fortuitous timing helped Gary Radnich’s career in a big way, because when he entered the Bay Area market it was at the dawn of what’s now called The Golden Era of Sports in Northern California--a two-year period (1988-’89) in which the 49ers won back-to-back Super Bowls, with the Bay Bridge World Series sandwiched in between. Sports mania ruled throughout the Bay Area during this time and Radnich was the ringmaster emceeing the festivities in our cars and living rooms day after day.
“During that period, everyone in the Bay Area was starving for sports news, because all of our teams were winning. It was before cable became popular and the Internet was still a ways off. I was on TV after every major sporting event, so people got to see me a lot. In the late ‘80’s all of the broadcasters had nice teeth and nice hair. They’d sit in front of the teleprompter and read the scores and I didn’t fit into that mold. Then I came on the air and started doing all this wild stuff and now it’s perceived as the norm, but it was considered outlandish back then.”
Fab #5: Familiarity
When did Radnich become the Bay Area’s very own sports media king? “Going on the radio in ’92 really established me, because it allowed me to be on the air for more than five minutes at a time. It was strange, because almost immediately I could sense a change in how the public perceived me. Now I was on the air for three straight hours every day. That really put me over the top. 1989 was a big year for me, but going on the radio at KNBR really put me on the map. Between my three jobs, I’m on the air more than 40 hours a week, but getting on the radio was the start of it, really.”
But, familiarity doesn’t happen easily or by accident. Radnich is the hardest working guy in the Bay Area sports broadcasting game by far, and as a result he’s well-known among sports and non sports fans alike.
Here’s how Gary’s work day goes. “I get to KNBR at around 9 am in the morning and I’m home by 12:20 for lunch. Then I’m at KRON to do that broadcast at around 5:30 pm, and then I’m back home at 7:30 pm; back again at it at 11:00 and home for good at around 11:20. That’s my day. People say they don’t know how I can work all these jobs. They tell me I’m going to eventually kill myself. And I tell them, no way, because when I’m not working I go home. I don’t just walk around, telling people look at me I’m on TV, so that people will notice me. I only show off when I’m on the air and that’s served me pretty good. I work hard but then I go home. If I’m going to have someone yelling at me, it might as well be Alicia.”