10 Questions with ... Rich Herrera
May 31, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Where to start… I can’t believe I am a 20-year vet in this business. It started out on a dare from a fraternity brother to work in radio. I started at KGEO Radio in Bakersfield, CA as a sports update anchor, then co-host, and eventually host of my own show. I jumped from KGEO to Los Angeles, where I was teamed with Bob Golic and went from a local show to syndication on Sports Fan Radio and then Prime Sports. I left LA for San Francisco to work at KNBR, and then hosted the A’s postgame show. I went back to LA once again to work with Golic at Fox Sports Radio, then from LA to Tucson, where I hosted the PM Drive slot and became a PD. I also started working as a sideline reporter for Sports USA. I then went to Tampa to host the Rays Pre and Post game show and run the team’s radio network. In 2012 I began hosting shows on MLB Network Radio. Later, I joined CBS Sports 98.7 The Fan (WHFS)/Tampa until the station was sold. I have been freelancing hosting shows for WAXY (790 The Ticket) in Miami, KMOX in St. Louis, Yahoo Sports Radio, and Sirius XM; I have filled in on KHTK Sacramento, KCUB Tucson, and WEPN (ESPN New York 98.7FM) in New York.
1. Let's start with your start: What led you to want to go into sports radio in the first place? Was that the plan from an early age or did it happen another way?
I was tricked into it by one of my fraternity brothers. I was thinking about law school, and he wanted to be a sportscaster. We had lunch and were talking about how fun it would be to do a sports talk show. The next day he told me he got his own radio show, but I could call in. I got mad and said I thought we were doing this together, so I marched down to the station and asked for my own show. I was told come back the next day with a shirt and tie; I was hired as an AE. I was good at sales but kept begging to get on the air. I finally got my chance and eventually got my own show, which led to a nighttime show in LA, all within 18 months. I don’t think that could happen today. By the way, my fraternity brother is now a Superior Court Judge in Southern California.
2. After doing a lot of work on broadcast and satellite radio -- which you still do -- you've launched podcasts with Kevin Kennedy, one on baseball in general and one that focuses on Southern California baseball. How did that come about -- the podcasting, working with Kevin -- and what are your plans for podcasting - will there be more shows and will you go beyond baseball or into other local markets?
I kept hearing people talking about podcasts and didn’t really get it. I tried listening but none of the ones I found kept my attention. I am a big Disney fan, and ran across one called WED Way Radio by Matt and Nate Parrish. People had asked me to do one over the years, but it didn’t interest me. When I was at CBS Radio. they asked me to do podcasts on days the show was bumped for play by play. I started doing one with my producer Jeff Pantridge (who is podcasting for Radio Influence as well). It was fun, very free flowing. When we all got laid off at 98.7 The Fan, I looked into podcasting, and talked with many people. But I couldn’t crack the code of what made them work, like the WED Way Radio show.
Jerry Petuck, my assistant PD at the Fan, met many times to talk about on-demand digital audio. He and Jason Floyd started Radio Influence and asked me to do a show. I started with one called “Off the Air,” on which I talked with play-by-play announcers each week. It was pretty good, but didn’t attract a big following, it was too small of a niche. I was talking with Kevin one day and suggested he do a podcast because he had so much to offer teaching and explaining baseball. We had worked together at Fox Sports, the Tampa Bay Rays, and MLB Network Radio. He told me a few days later he liked the idea, but he wanted me to co-host with him. I asked Jerry Petuck if I could change up my podcast and do more MLB than just about MLB announcers, and we were in business. Kevin has such a strong presence in LA and I worked in the market, so it made sense to do a podcast that would super-serve Dodgers and Angels fans. We get to do the best of both worlds, one a national baseball podcast and the other a local LA baseball show.
Others have approached me about expanding in podcasting, I am a huge sports fan, but also have a passion for history, politics, news and movies. If I can find the right show. I would love to do more. I think a podcast would be a great companion piece to a daily local radio show, and hope when I land my next show I get to have a companion piece that is more than just a replay of the radio show, something more like the Howard Stern Wrap Up show. With so much content available on your smart phone, I want to do more and more digital, YouTube, Snapchat, and Vines that will support a local radio show.
3. You do a lot of fill-in work on radio, national and local. How do you prepare for your fill-ins - are you always ready to go on a moment's notice, do you prepare every day whether or not there's a show to do, and are there differences in your mindset when you do a fill-in for a local market, say Miami or St. Louis, as opposed to a national audience?
I have been very lucky and owe so much to Len Weiner at 790 The Ticket and Steve Moore at KMOX for using me as fill-in. The job market is tough right now for talk show hosts, so I have had to create a niche as a fill-in host. I can be ready at the drop of a hat to host a show if needed. I have filled in everywhere, from New York, Miami, St Louis, Sacramento, and Tucson. I have to study even harder, because I am working so many places and can’t just concentrate on one market or sport. There is a difference between markets and the culture of each station that I work hard to respect. In St. Louis. they are hard working people that love their Cardinals and will talk baseball 24/7. In Miami, it’s a very creative vibrant city that loves the Heat. Sometimes I’ll do multiple shows in one day and not only prep for each market but make sure I know the feeling for each set of fans. I will get pictures of each city and maybe fans watching a game and have it on my desk to try and connect during the show. The most important thing is me being me and then to try to make a connection with my listener.
4. You've done play-by-play, hosted pre- and post-game shows, done sideline reporting... so, if you could have the ultimate job in sportscasting, what would it be? PBP, studio host, talk host, local, national, whatever- what's your dream job?
Since I have been job hunting. I have thought a lot about this. I have come so close to landing my next show but just have not found my right fit. I want a place where I have the support of my management, where I can be creative and get involved in the community, where I can grow digitally and on social media, and be able to work with sales people coming up with revenue for the station that makes the show better for listeners. I want to do remotes so I can meet the people that I talk to on the radio. I came close to my dream job this off-season in baseball. I want to host a pre and post game show and be able to fill in doing play by play during the spring and when the other announcers are on vacation or taking a day off -- that is one dream job. The other is to be able to be closer to family on the West Coast. To be able to go back to San Francisco or Southern California (LA or San Diego) and host a daily talk show would make my family and me so happy I couldn’t begin to explain what it would mean to us. (Do you hear that, 95.7 The Game or KSPN?) I have thought about general talk as well, and think that would be a great new challenge, but instead of being angry talk, take my skills from sports and make it more about talking about things with people instead of talking at people all the time and not listening.
5. Who have been your mentors, inspirations, influences, and/or heroes in the business?
I have been so lucky. In talk, my first PD was Bob Agnew at KNBR; he was tough on me, and I am so lucky he was. He taught me so much, and I am always in his debt. At Fox Sports Radio, Tom Lee showed me how to connect and know your audience. He showed me that I was taking to someone that was living and breathing human being. At CBS Radio, Mark Chernoff taught me to be passionate for the right reasons on the air and to be entertaining. Len Weiner at 790 The Ticket showed me how to focus my show and recruit callers the right way, and to be open to how the sound of radio is changing and that more than one voice is a good thing. Plus, Gabe Hobbs has really polished me up for years, and his advice has been priceless. On the play by play side John Rooney, Joe Castiglione, and Eli Gold have been so good to me; I don’t deserve their friendship but am grateful for their support.
6. You've worked for or covered several teams, which raises the question: Has that affected your fandom? Are there still teams you root for, or are you more impartial, or partial to players you know more than the teams?
I tend to root for players more than teams per se. You identify with them and their struggles and success. I do root for some and hate others. I am a fan, after all, on a talk show. I do hate the term “homer,” and I think it’s a cynical cop-out for someone to use. Do you want your local announcer to pull for the home team to lose? You also don’t want the announcer to lie to your face and tell you it’s raining when its not.
Working for a club is a hard line to straddle. You have to be honest with the fans, but you also work for the team, and they are your bosses. With the Rays, I was called a homer. I will tell you I was also called out by my bosses for what I said about the team or things I questioned. As a talk show host, you can mouth off all you want, but don’t have to answer to many people outside the station. That’s not true if you work for the team. I always tried to answer the fans’ questions by going to ask the manager or players what the fans wanted to know. That often didn’t make them happy, and they thought I was covering for the team. I just made sure they knew what the managers and players said themselves. Doing so many remotes (we invented watch parties in TB), I found that some fans rooted blindly for the team while others believed that their team was never going to succeed and we were all doomed, but at the moment of truth when a big hit happened, they both cheered in the same split second and then went back to yes-we-can/it-ain’t-going-to-happen. I am at heart still that kid who went to see minor league games with my grandparents and love sports. I have been lucky to do this for a living and if I ever get so cynical I can’t enjoy it I better find something else to do.
7. Of what are you most proud?
There are lots of things. Being around so long in talk radio is one. Being a part of some great stations is another. KNBR was the number one sports station in America when I was there. We built a classic country AM stick into the University of Arizona flagship within three years. At the Rays, we were the first team to take its rights in-house after the XM deal. I walked in and had a week before games started, no format and 2 stations, and I built a network of 25 stations and got our games on the heritage station in the market. At 98.7 The Fan, we took a start up and made a run of it. I outperformed the station ratings wise and had $500K in endorsements when the station went off the air. I was named one of the Men of the Year in Tampa Bay for my work with All Children’s Hospital last year. But what I am most proud of is the people I have worked for and who have succeeded in this business. Craig Larsen runs Yahoo Sports Radio, Nick Pavaloatos runs NFL Radio, I have had interns that have gone on to great things as well. Those people are what I am most proud of more than anything I have done.
8. Having covered a lot of games over the years, what was the single most memorable moment so far? Is there one game or incident that sticks out for you?
There are quite a few. I was working the sidelines when Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino’s passing record. I was there when the San Francisco Giants won the NL West in 1997, and for Moneyball in Oakland. I was there to see the Rays win the American League Pennant and go to the World Series. Now, this may sound hokey to some, but what sticks out to me are the moments with the fans. I have had people come and celebrate birthdays with me at the ballpark, and have been invited to weddings and funerals. There are a few that really stand out. I have had kids who I hosted at the ballpark from Make A Wish come up to me years later and ask, “Hey do you remember me?” A lot of times I didn’t because they were so much younger and going through chemo or something, but then they’ll show me a picture of us together and tell me how much that day at the ballpark meant to them and their family when they were so sick. I had a family come and see me for the post game show on Father’s Day. They had just said good-bye to their son who was leaving to go fight in the Middle East that morning, and came to see the game and watch the post game show to take their minds off of saying goodbye to their son, who was going into harm’s way. We kept in touch and I am happy to say he came home safe and sound and we keep in touch to this day. They were looking for some comfort on that day and they looked to me. I had an older gentleman and his son who would come by the ballpark every pre and post game show and wave and say hello. On opening day the son came by without his father. I thought it was odd not to see his father whom he pushed in a wheelchair. After the pregame show he told me his dad had passed away during the off season and he wanted me to know how much it meant to him and his dad that I would stop what I was doing to say hello to him every time they came by. Before his dad passed, he told his son to come see me on opening day and say hello and he knew his dad was up in heaven looking down on us and smiling. Moments like that are better than anything on the field.
9. Fill in the blank: I can’t make it through the day without ____________.
…three things: talking to my dad, a hug from my son, and, I am embarrassed to say, my iPhone. I am an Apple geek with Macbook and iPad, but if I don’t have my iPhone, it feels really really weird.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Bill King, the legendary announcer of the Oakland A’s, taught me something I pass on to many people. I met him for lunch to get his blessing to do the A’s post game show, and he asked me what I like to read. I told him I read SI. He said no, what books do you read? I said I was reading a book about Joe DiMaggio. He looked at me with disappointment on his face and said that if you are going to make your living using the Queen’s English, you need to have a command of the language. He told me I need to read the works of Winston Churchill, the greatest orator of the English language. He taught me that there is always going to be someone who knows more about sports than I do, and I should be well read and well-rounded, and that is what makes a great broadcaster. To this day, I read Churchill and as much history as I can. When I take a picture with a listener, I give the V for Victory sign as a salute to Bill for teaching me to expand my horizons.