In the second part of our interview with ESPN 1050’s Brandon Tierney, he talks about his path through 1050, comparing TV to radio, advice for sports journalism hopefuls, and even discusses sports topics from earlier this summer. Currently, Tierney co-hosts Mac & Tierney with Jody MacDonald every weekday from 1:00-3:00pm on 1050AM ESPN.
Q: And it’s well known that you’re a Knicks fan too…
A: Oh, absolutely! I think it depends upon on how you view the job of a radio host. I write, speak, and appear on television. I have my hand in every medium. I’m not reporting or sitting at the White House reporting about the oil spill. I talk about sports and in my opinion, the best hosts are the ones who root for teams, end of story. If I don’t know if this host is a Yankee fan, or a Met fan, or does he even appreciate the Knicks, did he watch Bernard King, did he love Ewing, did he hate Ewing, did he love Edgardo Alfonzo, Martin Brodeur, why do I want to hear his opinions? It’s boring.
Q: The reason why I brought up the Knicks was because starting a couple years ago you were doing the radio pregame/postgame on 1050 ESPN, and also did some stuff for MSG, and also had the pleasure of doing play-by-play for the New York Knicks and that must have been a dream come true?
A: Insane. This might sound a little corny, but every word is true. The Knicks played at the Garden on a Friday night, and I did the pre and post-game show. I only got the opportunity because the team was in a jam and I was doing work for St. Johns. I got a request two weeks earlier because the other announcers were too busy. They asked for one of the St. John’s games I covered. I called St. John’s, they burned the disk and sent it to the Knicks. I thought it was a decent audition, not great but decent and they gave me the opportunity. After the Friday night game, I flew to Atlanta for the first time with the team. We go to the Four Seasons, a top notch place, and I’m thinking “Wow, this is the NBA.” We arrive around 4 am, and I was wired. I woke up the next day and called my old man to shoot the breeze. I opened up the window and found myself staring at the Atlanta skyline. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit overwhelmed and I had a tear in my eye. My father said it best….you are going to call an NBA game tonight, and I don’t care if you do well or not, you are actually getting this chance. I take a shower and meet John Andariese, who was a saint. Actually, John played a key part in my engagement when I proposed to my fiancé by getting me a great seat at a certain restaurant. I’m not going to bore anybody with those details, but John is the best. I grew up watching John, he’s a Brooklyn guy, St. Pat’s, and played in the CYO, years before I did. I don’t want to say I looked at John as a grandfather because I don’t want to date him that much, but he is the best. I could do an interview on John. We got to the arena and set up for the broadcast. The Knicks got down immediately and what do you do? I kept thinking this was going to be a disaster. I’ll never forget receiving a text message from Michael Kay stating “You’re doing great, keep it up.” I also received some texts from a few of my boys from Brooklyn. Was it good? I don’t know.
Q: It was good. I listened. I remember it – it was good.
A: I appreciate that. I was caught up with my emotions, but was concerned. In the first quarter I said to myself that if I have to go to my filler material this early, this is going to be a problem. It would be boring not only to the audience, but to John and myself as well. During a stoppage John stated, “Well Mr. Tierney, it’s quite apparent that your years on the St. John’s beat have prepared you well for this moment, welcome to the NBA.” I wanted to deflect the compliment because nobody gives a damn about me, except my parents and friends. I wanted to get back to the game, and said, “John, it’s an honor sitting next to you. Let’s pray that this doesn’t continue because if it does this is going to be one boring game bro.” We get back to the game, it eventually reaches overtime and the Knicks won! Then I had a chance to work ten more games, including some other NBA staple franchises that I grew up watching. It was awesome. I never thought I would have that chance. I would be honored, and lucky if the opportunity ever happened again – because I miss it.
Q: You say it’s a great experience, and so is the stuff you’re doing now with SNY. Can you talk about the difference between radio and television besides the make up?
A: My first opportunity to appear on TV was a Friday night roundtable show on a Fox affiliate in Detroit. I probably appeared on the show seven or eight times, but was always nervous. The show was taped and I was in my twenties just trying to get my career going. I remember taping myself in order to critique my performance. I had no family in Detroit and was on my own. I had to rely on my instincts. To be honest, I never really felt like I did well, and thought I was better on the radio. I was going to stick to radio until the opportunity to guest host Cold Pizza on ESPN in 2003. I was a guest a few times on the show and then received a call from one of the producers saying, “Hey listen, Jay Crawford is going on vacation for a week, we’d like you to fill in and co-host.”
My response was “Oh man, how much am I getting?” They told me and I thought – Sweet! That Sunday night I believe was Valentine’s Day, and I am in my apartment with my ex-girlfriend, sick as a dog. I’m terrified and beyond nervous. The show starts and I felt out of my element. When you are not a seasoned TV veteran, and you are thrust into an uncomfortable position, it’s overwhelming. I compare it to being a rookie quarterback – here comes the blitz…now deal with it.
I didn’t reach a comfort zone until the first interview, when I got the chance to talk to Gregg Nettles, the smooth Yankee 3rd baseman who symbolized the Yankees before Don Mattingly. I didn’t love Nettles the way I would eventually ended up idolizing Mattingly, but it was close. We both hit lefty and I also used to play 3rd base. I used to love Nettles. When I got him on the set, whatever the reason, it clicked. We started discussing golf – his equipment and a league in which he played. We just had a vibe. I don’t know if he felt a connection, but I did and it was awesome. Long story short – I did Cold Pizza for the whole week. Being honest, I didn’t think I was that good but it allowed me to become more open-minded about working on television.
SNY has been amazing to me. We’ve been doing “The Wheelhouse” for more than two years. The show started with Brian Custer, Scotty Ferrell and myself. Brian was a great talent, very smooth and easy to work with. Scotty was the polar opposite, he’s nuts and he’s all over the place. I knew Ferrell from working on the same network in Las Vegas so there was some familiarity. Scotty is a raving lunatic and I’m not exactly quiet. The fireworks came quickly but there was immediate chemistry and respect. It just became more and more comfortable. I have now reached a point where I am as comfortable on TV as I am on radio, which is really surprising. It’s fun.
SNY has given me a chance to do some Big East work, if you are a New York sports fan, how the heck are you not watching SNY? This is not a knock on YES, as I’m a Yankee fan I watch YES all the time. I am good friends with (Michael) Kay and am not looking to disparage networks. However on SNY, you get a wrap up show, the Yankees, the Mets, the Big East, football, and hoops –the whole package. As a network, SNY is very progressive. They allow you to take chances. It’s a different feel and a great fit for my personality. I have a lot of respect and love for SNY, no question.
Q: You think it’s only a matter of time until they get one of the hockey and basketball teams over there?
A: Honestly, I have no idea.
Q: What advice can you give younger people coming out of college who are trying to break into this industry?
A: Start by looking at yourself in the mirror. When I talk to an aspiring journalist, I can make a judgment within 2 minutes on whether they can make this as a career. Talent is subjective. I previously brought up Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, a New York sports radio legend. However, if you were to rate him by conventional radio standards, he would have stood no chance. He is always laughing, all over the place, but that’s what makes him so amazing. There’s really no blueprint to success, except this – you better have an incredible work ethic. You must be willing to work from state to state, be absolutely broke, work all hours of the night, with no assurance and no guarantee you will reach your goal. But if you can persist and look at this as a really long-term goal, then maybe this can work. If you’re not willing to out in the time and effort – don’t waste your time. Make a U-turn, go find a 9-5 because you’re not cut out for this profession. There’s a certain risk … let me put it this way, you want to be a doctor, go to medical school, you want to be a lawyer, go to law school, you want to be a cop, take the test – get out early, get your two year degree and become a cop. You want to be a broadcaster – good luck, because there is no defined route, unless you have a connection – and I didn’t. My dad is a retired detective. I spoke about growing up in Brooklyn, very middle class. I didn’t have any contacts in the sports arena, but I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Here is the other thing, you have to know if you have that intangible something where you are good enough to make this your career. If you aren’t sure, then you know your answer. When you look in the mirror, usually that image starring back at you is pretty accurate, but if you don’t want it, don’t waste your time, and don’t waste my time asking me how to make it.
Q: I look at the Yankees, and I am going to step away from this season, in Jeter/A-Rod situation that has happened over the past couple years, I’ve always compared it to the 1961 Maris/Mantle tag team, on how Jeter/Mantle, no matter what they do, are looked at like Gods in this city. Whereas Maris/A-Rod just has that scrutiny over them 24/7 – I wanted to get your opinion on that.
A: I don’t think it’s the same dynamic. With Derek being drafted by the Yankees, and A-Rod now on his third team… I think the way the city gravitated towards Mantle, and really disrespected Maris along the way, I just don’t know.
Q: That’s fair. Mostly because I looked at mostly how Maris was so scrutinized in 1961 and I feel like A-Rod got some of that too because it just seemed like both guys tried so hard to appease everybody…
A: But the difference is A-Rod brought a lot of it on his own. He brought it on himself. If I reviewed the 7 years that I’ve been at 1050, I would estimate forty percent of the discussions have been about Alex Rodriguez. I mean really think about it, really. Steroids, the World Series, the inability to play when it matters – its always something with him. But he got his ring and was a superhero in the World Series. I am most interested in the kind of player he will be at the age of 35? I think he has passed his prime but I want to see how is career will play out. As for his relationship with Jeter, the hatchet is buried and they won the World Series. The rest is irrelevant.
Q: What do you see for both the Knicks and the Nets this season?
A: Well I think the Nets are a power-player here. I love the Avery Johnson hire – great move. Brook Lopez is terrific. I still think there’s a chance they could deal Devin Harris. They’ve have money and Brooklyn coming up in a few years. They’re on the right path.
The Knicks aren’t bad. I think Gallinari is going to be a star and not a lot of people agree with me. I know you do, but a lot of people, maybe because they haven’t been watching, and quite frankly I don’t know if I blame them because the Knicks have been so awful. But this kid is a stud. He’s got the shot, but he’s got toughness that you don’t normally associate with Europeans. I’ve figured into this, when you grow up around sports, that there is a certain intangible that other athletes don’t have. He grew up around his father, a former pro basketball player, so you know he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the stage. He knows how good he is. I remember the night he was drafted. I was doing a night show and the Knicks brought him up to the studio because the station is here at the Garden. They brought him up and it was the first time I met the kid and realized this kid is confident. The only issue was his back staying healthy. I think he’s going to be an All-Star, a 20 points per game guy. I think he’s going to be an elite offensive player – maybe not in the year coming up, but the next year – 2011.