It was Monday night June 8th. I had just left San Francisco as Program Director of 95.7 The Game, and was driving cross country, when I reached the outskirts of Cleveland, and decided to put on the city’s local sports talk radio station 92.3 The Fan.
Immediately I was drawn in for two reasons. First, the voice of Ken Carman was powerful and passionate, and he carried an authoritative presence in the way he delivered his opinions.
Secondly, he teased an upcoming conversation with Joe Fortenbaugh, who works at the station I had left one week earlier (95.7 The Game), and he explained that he wasn’t happy with Joe, and was going to the clear the air with him. I turned to my girlfriend Stephanie and asked “what do you think Joe said to fire this guy up” and we were both intrigued and wanting to hear what was coming up next.
When the show returned from its commercial break, Ken did a wonderful job setting up the drama. He started off by talking about the NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors, and then segued to discussing how Fortenbaugh had talked trash about the city of Cleveland, and gave reasons why the Bay Area, its teams, and its fans, were better.
Hearing Joe’s take, (which I had no part in creating, but knew was done tongue-in-cheek to fire up Bay Area fans and drum up some fun banter between both cities), didn’t sit well with Ken, and he took to the airwaves with a mission to defend his city, its teams, and more importantly, his listeners. Ken brought Joe on to the air, and probed into the reasons why Joe would tear into the city of Cleveland, and wasted no time firing back, and expressing his displeasure with his assessments, and eventually hung up on him.
Ken Carman interviews Joe Fortenbaugh on 92.3 The Fan
It didn’t matter who was right or wrong. What impressed me, was how Ken understood his audience that night, and made sure they knew he had their backs. If you were a Cleveland sports fan listening to that segment, there’s no way you turned off the radio without gaining respect, and admiration for the way Ken handled an out of town personality talking negatively about your city.
Keep in mind, at this time, I didn’t know Ken Carman from the next guy walking down the street. I did know Joe Fortenbaugh, I hired him in San Francisco, and I consider him a good friend. I had every reason in the book that night to rip into Ken for taking one of my guys to task, but instead I found myself appreciating the exchange between two strong minded personalities, and their refusal to back down and stand up for each of their cities, made for an entertaining listen.
From that point on, I was connected to the show, and I listened to the next hour of it, and felt I was listening to someone who was going to continue to climb the ladder in the Cleveland market. Ken was bold with his opinions, wore his heart on his sleeve with the Cleveland teams, incorporated some funny WWE soundbites as drops into his show, engaged with callers in a fun and spirited way, and he had his finger on the pulse of what was important to local fans.
As luck would have it, the next day I went to lunch with 92.3 The Fan’s Program Director Andy Roth. I complimented him on finding Carman and putting him on the air. I felt he had a pretty good talent on his airwaves, and I could tell from the way he talked about him, that he felt the same way.
Later that day, I was fortunate to get a quick tour of The Fan’s studios, and wouldn’t you know it, but Ken was at the studio, 4-5 hours before his shift. I had a chance to make an introduction, and he seemed startled when my girlfriend introduced herself as Joe Fortenbaugh’s girlfriend. After we laughed that one off, I told him I was impressed with the way he directed last night’s show, especially the segment with Joe, which had its contentious moments, and thought he had a good sound and was doing good work.
Then in July, Andy Roth had a decision to make. He had a vacancy in morning drive, and had gone through two months of evaluations to determine the right fit opposite Kevin Kiley. Kevin is a strong talented personality, who’s worked in many top markets across the country, and if you’re going to co-host with him, you need to be on your game.
Well, Andy made the call, and summoned Ken to become Kevin’s full-time partner on the morning show. I don’t believe he would’ve put a young developing talent like Ken in that that spot if he didn’t think he could hold his own. It’s always easier choosing the guy with more experience, and a proven track record, but you can’t teach great natural talent, and Ken has it.
Since making the move into morning drive, Ken’s more than held his own. I’ve tuned in on a couple of occasions, and while the show is still finding its groove, and identity (they’ve been together for less than 2 months), I hear Ken gaining confidence, and proving he belongs. As more Cleveland fans become familiar with his style, approach, and dedication to his hometown and their teams, I think they’re going to enjoy a lot more of what he brings to the table.
I give a lot of credit to Andy Roth for seeing something in Ken. He gave him a platform (the night show) to learn and grow for the past few years, and that hard work, and willingness to accept feedback obviously paid off, because Andy felt confident enough to further invest in him by pairing him with Kiley in morning drive. Now Ken has the ability to learn from, and benefit from Kevin’s years of success, and that will help him tremendously in the future, as he furthers his own development as an on-air talent.
I had the chance to connect with Ken to learn some details about his background, and his approach to his craft, and I think you’re going to enjoy the conversation – especially the part about his official contract signing with The Fan. When Andy shared this story with me, I knew it had to be told to everyone. Also, make sure to watch the video of Ken watching a Browns game. It’s highly entertaining, and showcases what real passion for a hometown team looks like, but be advised that there’s a lot of colorful language in it.
Q: When did you first start listening to sports radio? What attracted you to it?
A: I first started listening to sports radio when I was 11 years old. I was in middle school and for some reason, I was looking through the newspaper in study hall, and they had radio schedules in it, and The old 1220 had the Kenny Roda show on. The more I listened to it, the more I liked it.
Q: What was your first sports radio job? What did you do?
A: I originally wanted to be a writer, but a high school assistant principal encouraged me to do radio. My supervisor at my college radio station also pushed me to apply for my first ever job as a board op at 640 WHLO in Akron, which was part of a Clear Channel cluster (now I-Heart). I ended up working as a board op and everything kind of took off from there.
Q: Who have been some of your influences who made you want to pursue this industry?
A: My first bosses, Keith Kennedy and Greg Ausham, were major influences on not just how to do radio, but also how to treat people, and how to get better as you grow. Every boss who has given me a chance to do something for them has helped me out, but a little confidence went a long way back then.
Q: As a sports fan, which teams/players are you most loyal to?
A: I’m most loyal to the three teams in Cleveland but over the last few years, it’s not even because I’m a fan of the teams. I get to see the teams from a different perspective now, so it’s changed how I enjoy them. That’s both good and bad. For example, there are times I really want to go nuts on the Browns for what they do and don’t do, and sometimes I do, but I also get to see how hard they work, and even though they run into their own way sometimes, there are a lot of people who have the best of intentions.
I find myself wanting the teams to do well also because the fans want them to do well. I like happy people, and happy listeners, and while it’s not the most damning flame throwing stuff so much, I think it’s easier to get ideas across than just the same old negative opinions.
Q: I’m told that your journey to sign your contract with 92.3 The Fan was rather memorable. Where were you when you signed your deal and what made it interesting?
A: I signed my contract on the steps of the church where my wife and I were married at. Andy Roth (92.3 The Fan’s Program Director) had to get it signed to get it to the legal department before I left the country on my honeymoon. At the time, I lived an hour away in Youngstown, so we were texting each other on how we were going to get the documents to one another while my wife and I were getting our pictures done! I felt bad, but if my wife and I wanted to eat I had to get that contract signed. So, Andy came to Youngstown, and I signed it on his back. My uncle came up to him and slapped Andy on the back because he thought Andy was officiating the wedding (not knowing it was going to be done by a Catholic priest). An awesome day, but a long one.
Q: Since joining The Fan, you spent a large part of your time developing your brand while hosting the night show. What was the best/toughest part of hosting evenings?
A: The best part of the evenings was that there were a lot of times where you could experiment and make mistakes. We made a lot of them, but we also did some really great things that I’ll always be proud of. Also, a lot of news breaks in the evening so you get the first crack at it. The worst part of it was that you’re up against live sports, and there were times where I was the only one in the room. If there was a big game on, and some folks were cutting sound, I’d have to fill ALL the time. I would get complaints about being a windbag, and that I wouldn’t take calls, but there were times when there was no one else there, and no one calling! I can understand where some listeners were coming from, but a peak behind the curtain sometimes is the only thing I’d want folks to understand.
Q: You’re known to be accessible to the audience on social media, including putting your real life out there for the audience’s enjoyment. There’s no better example of this than the video that circulated of you watching a Browns game (Ken’s wife Liz captured this piece of video gold). When you see this video, what’s your immediate reaction, and how did the audience respond to it?
A: There’s a lot of people who see the video and they really like it. I’m a little ashamed of it to be honest, just because I cuss so much in it. I really want the teams here to win, and I meant every word I said, but man, I could have dialed it down a bit. My favorite reaction though is when people say they do the same thing. Sometimes hubris takes over, and I’m guilty of it too, when we think our opinions are better than others. They’re not. There are smart fans all over, and many want the same things I do. It’s become a reminder to me to try to hear everyone out.
Q: Why do you believe it’s important as a personality to be accessible on social media and share your life outside your show? What is the downside of it?
A: I think people want to be heard, and Twitter/Facebook is a great place for that. Everyone has an opinion to be respected, and even though I might not be able to address them all, that person deserves respect, so that’s what I try to give. The downfall of it is that Twitter especially can be like a driveby shooting. You’ll have people who didn’t hear you right, or heard you say something that you didn’t actually say, or they read a tweet wrong, or are just trolls. Or they just don’t like you. They can take a bite out of you 140 characters at a time with no repercussions. I think there’s people who see something other than a person.
Q: Growing up as a diehard Cleveland sports fan, what are some of the things that you believe make the area and its teams great and unique that the outside people may not be aware of?
A: It’s not the losing. I think it’s the hope that something will actually happen. I think it will sooner than later, but when it hasn’t, people have been able to dust it off and move on. I use the Browns leaving in ’95 as an example. The NFL can be a cold hearted, cutthroat business, and to get the NFL to give a franchise three years later (as misguided as they may be at times) shows the passion of this fanbase.
Q: As you look down the road, where do you hope to be in the next 5-10 years and in order to reach those goals what must you do?
A: I see myself in Cleveland. I grew up in NE Ohio, and I think that as long as I continue to work at this and not get lazy, I can enjoy a long career here. If a top 3-5 market came calling, I’d have to think about it, but as of right now, and for the long term future, I can’t picture myself anywhere but in Cleveland hosting shows.
Q: For someone reading this whose looking to break into the industry or is working in a smaller market and trying to reach the big city, what advice do you want to pass along to them?
A: Treat it like acting. Major in something else in college. Know that a lot of people who try it, don’t make it, and realize that the second you believe you’ve made it, you could be on your way out, BUT, try it out! It would be a shame for someone to love it, and want to do it, and look back on life regretting that they never tried it. You’ll have to pay a lot of dues, and work a lot of odd jobs at the beginning, but in the long run, giving it everything you can is worth it. There’s a lot of regular jobs out there, and someday I might even have one of them, but this is a lifestyle. It’s amazing from the second you break in, to the second it ends.
Ken Carman can be heard weekday mornings on the “Kiley & Carman” show, 6am-10am (ET) on 92.3 The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @Ken Carman.