Radnich (front) and his KNBR crewincludes (from left standing) on-air talent Ray Whitson; assistant producers Tim Webb and Eamonn Sweeney; and executive producer Mike Hohler
Since we’re in a Fab Five mood at Northside San Francisco
for the holidays, we decided to talk to Gary Radnich about his very own Fab Five: the five things that have most affected his career and personal life. Radnich has survived and thrived for more than 26 years in the Bay Area sports broadcasting scene: as the sports director at KRON-TV (Channel 4); the radio host of The Sports Leader
on KNBR (AM 680/1150); and as a sports commentator for Comcast SportsNet. He’s an icon, a legend, and still standing after many years because while technology and everyone around him have changed, Radnich has always stayed exactly the same.
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 unique showboating style while playing basketball in the late sixties at Del Mar and Branham High Schools in Radnich’s hometown of San Jose, Calif., and then later at Brigham Young University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
With this encouraging team supporting him every step of the way, Radnich wasn’t afraid to try and fail at almost anything – a quality he said that later helped him in his career’s infancy. “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 percent behind me no matter what I did. I was real lucky.”
Radnich’s relationship with his late father is the prime reason he has succeeded in an industry where most are lucky if they can work in the same spot for more than a few years, let alone 26.
“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 thirties, and everyone loved him. I miss him, that’s for sure.”
At this stage in their lives, most guys don’t have two grade-school kids and a toddler (Jolie, age 10; Isabella, age 6; and Spencer, age 3), but when Radnich met his second wife, Alicia, 15 years ago, he was ready to start a family all over again. (Radnich 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 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.” And because Radnich doesn’t want someone else raising his children, Alicia is a stay-at-home mom, which suits her fine.
Even in liberal San Francisco, Radnich still gets strange looks when he walks around in public with his wife, who is African-American and his children, which Radnich describes as “a nice blend.” “We still get stares to this day. 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?’” This usually surprises the person, who will then mutter something like, “Oh no, she’s a lovely woman, I just …” Radnich enjoys the different reactions he receives, so he makes a point to ask this kind of question every few months.
Radnich says he never gets too close to athletes or coaches, which is 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.”
Although Radnich doesn’t get warm or fuzzy with any interviewee, there have been a few exceptions. 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.
“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.’” Radnich appreciated Walsh’s good advice as well as his criticisms, which were always delivered nicely. “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.
“Both these guys would do anything for you,” Radnich explained. “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.”
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 career overnight.
Fortuitous timing helped Radnich’s career in a big way. 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. In this two-year period (1988-89), 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.
“I was on TV after every major sporting event, so people got to see me a lot. In the late eighties 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 some pretty off-beat stuff, and now it’s perceived as the norm, but it was considered outlandish back then.”
When did Radnich become the Bay Area’s very own sports media king?
Radnich credits going on-air at KNBR in 1992 as a defining moment in his career. Now that he was on the air for three straight hours daily instead of just five minutes, he immediately sensed a change in his perception by the public. “That really put me over the top … going on the radio at KNBR really put me on the map. Between my three jobs, I’m [now] 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 nonsports fans alike.
“I get to KNBR at around 9 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 [p.m.], and then I’m back home at 7:30; back at it again at 11 [p.m.] and home for good at around 11:20. That’s my day.” Although his typical workday is long and grueling, Radnich is able to leave it all behind and decompress with his family at the end of the day. “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!”