Life was going unbelievably well. It was April 2015. My 7-month old twin daughters were healthy and loving life. My wife was in good spirits. You know the old adage, happy wife, happy life. I was beginning year number three of my evening show in Philadelphia when the chance to go National came knocking. After six years at 97.5 The Fanatic I was heading to SiriusXM to host the afternoon drive show on Bleacher Report Radio. No more 1-hour commute. A home studio. More money. A blank canvas each day to talk about the biggest stories in the world of sports. At 31-years old it happened sooner than I ever imagined it would. Little did I know that I was just 2-months away from my life changing forever.
It was the first Sunday night in June. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was set to begin. LeBron vs Steph. Cavs vs Warriors. I was going to DVR the game because my wife and her family wanted me to go to the Sands Casino to take in the Bill Maher Show. As we were eating dinner at one of the restaurants in the Casino prior to the show I came down with a really bad cough. I had to excuse myself from the table multiple times. I didn’t think anything of it. I ended up leaving the show after coughing most of the night and probably annoying those around me for disrupting their evening. I told my wife I had to go to the hospital. Something wasn’t right. I barely had any voice.
The doctors at the hospital said it was Laryngitis and should go away in a matter of a few days or weeks. That wasn’t the case. I struggled to get through a 3-hour radio show each day, limping to the finish line. Then on July 24th I was informed that SiriusXM and Bleacher Report had renegotiated their agreement and virtually all of the lineup was let go, without warning, I was out of work. I was shocked. But it was also a blessing in disguise. I knew I couldn’t keep struggling vocally each day, especially with football season coming up. The money time for the sports radio business.
Starting in August of 2015 I went to voice doctors in Bethlehem Pa, but I could tell they were overmatched and not diagnosing the root of my problems. They told me it was acid reflux that was causing my vocal fatigue. I took some medicine, changed my diet slightly, but still my voice shut down on me quickly. I knew something wasn’t right. Finally in March of 2016 my wife’s Aunt was able to connect me with a great voice surgeon and doctor in New York City. After some tests he confirmed that I had suffered a 25% paresis to my left vocal cord. Essentially, my left vocal cord was weakened from that cough I had, which was trigged by a viral infection that attacked the nerve/muscle that controls your vocal cords. My left vocal cord might have been even more paralyzed than 25% but probably regenerated and recovered to some extent, but it was still only about 70-75% of what it used to be.
This is what happened to FOX’s Joe Buck in 2011. He also had a paralyzed vocal cord. So about a month later I had surgery. Dr. Peak Woo took some fat from my stomach and injected my left vocal cord to bulk it up so that my vocal cords would connect and close. It helped to some degree, but still I had troubles. He told me that acid reflux wasn’t the issue. Yet I was still having more issues. So finally in June of 2016 after researching the best Laryngologists in the country I came across Dr. Robert Sataloff in Philadelphia. He has worked with some of the most iconic voice professionals in the world. Patty LaBelle, Neil Diamond and Robert Goulet. If he could restore their voices I felt confident he’d be able to help me.
As soon as I met him he assured me “there’s no question we will get you back.” After a bunch of tests he confirmed my weakness on my left side but also said acid reflux was a culprit and my right vocal cord was bowing. So in November of 2016 I had anti-reflux surgery on my stomach. A Nissen Fundoplication. It went very well. Then in January 2017 I had my neck cut open and had a thyroplasty implant placed next to my right vocal cord. In June of 2017 I was placed on reflux medicine and told I had to drastically alter my diet. Whatever tastes good, is essentially bad for you. No more coffee, alcohol, acidic, fried or greasy foods. I couldn’t believe it. I was 175 LBS, in very good shape, exercised 5 days a week and ate relatively well. But I loved foods with tomatoes, garlic, onions, etc. I never had any heartburn, so I couldn’t comprehend how or why I had reflux. But it was called “silent reflux.” It’s where the acid comes up and burns the vocal cords, causing you to clear your throat and destroying your voice.
From September 2015 through July 2017 I became miserable. I was depressed. Annoyed. Agitated. Doubting whether or not my life would be altered forever. Forget my career and doing a radio show, I didn’t want to talk on the phone, and socializing became incredible difficult. Being in a loud environment was discouraging. I couldn’t project my voice in a noisy venue. I even had trouble being social with my daughters and wife. It absolutely stunk. Finally in July 2017 after over a year of voice therapy my voice started to get better. Dr. Sataloff told me it would take up to 12-18 months to get the full effect from the thyroplasty. I was running out of patience.
Good news finally came in August when he cleared me to resume broadcasting activity. That was great. But I had no platform. After applying for jobs in various markets I realized I was going to miss my 3rd consecutive football season on the radio. Time was running out. My own self imposed deadline was creeping in. In February of 2017 I had to turn down an opportunity to go to Seattle and do a show in the Pacific Northwest because I was just coming off of surgery. I also had a chance to do some network fill-in work but botched that opportunity. I had pursued other opportunities but the offers weren’t there.
Finally in November of 2017 I saw that there was a job posting on Jason Barrett’s website, sportsradiopd.com. It was for a host position in Nashville, Tennessee. The job said you need to be able to talk SEC football along with the Titans, Vols and Predators. They had me at SEC. I’ve been a devout Alabama Crimson Tide fan for 25-years and knew in my heart that Philadelphia and National had come and gone and talking college football was my passion. Everyone and anyone that knows me knows that I love SEC football. So I applied.
I quickly realized that there were so many connections and correlations between Nashville and Philadelphia and Alabama. Marcus Mariota is the Titans QB. We discussed him constantly in 2014 with Chip Kelly coaching the Eagles. Derrick Henry was the RB for the Titans, my favorite Heisman winner from Alabama. The Predators are coached by Peter Laviolette who guided the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2010. And now the Tennessee Volunteers were hiring Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It was too good to be true. I instantly knew that this was meant to be.
So I applied for the job and went through the process from the week before Thanksgiving, all the way through the month of December and halfway into January. I flew down the morning after Christmas and met with the station, the talent and management and quickly realized what I had already assumed and wanted. This was meant to be.
Now here I am, co-hosting a 3-man morning show, each weekday morning from 6a-10a ET on ESPN 102.5 The Game in Nashville. The show will begin on Monday February 5, 2018, the day after the Super Bowl. It’s an exciting time to move to a booming city like Nashville. The Titans are naming a new Head Coach after winning a playoff game. The Vols have a new Head Coach as they look for redemption in the SEC and the Predators are trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second year in a row. It’s a great time to be a part of Nashville’s BEST SPORTS TALK.
In conclusion I’ll tell you what I learned. First of all, never take ANYTHING for granted. Even something as simple as talking. You don’t realize what you have until you lose something. Even something like your voice. I learned that my wife is the most selfless person on the planet. The sacrifices she made while I was at my lowest make me appreciate how lucky I am. She carried my family when I was at rock bottom, physically, mentally, vocally, professionally, financially and even spiritually. I owe her so much.
I have to thank God for carrying me through the difficult times and bringing me back to better times. I have to thank my voice team for all of their help. Every doctor, surgeon and therapist that helped me get back have been a true blessing. And I owe Nashville, ESPN 102.5 The Game and Cromwell Radio so much. They have given me the opportunity of a lifetime. They decided to trust me over other candidates from out of the market, to candidates in the market. General Manager Jana Hampton and Program Director Ryan Porth have been tremendous to me and I can’t wait to validate their decision to choose me. I look forward to working with Braden Gall, Julian Council and the rest of my morning show team.
After two and a half years of surgeries, frustrations, sleepless nights, tears shed and prayers on top of prayers I finally have gotten it back. My voice. My passion. My family. My career.
Redesigned. Rebuilt. Reclaimed. A slogan that WWE Superstar Seth Rollins used to regain his career after a devastating injury is something that I kept in the back of my head while going through my own rehabilitation.
It’s now time to get to work. Buckle up, Nashville. The Morning Drive with Nick Kayal, Braden Gall and Derrick Mason starts Monday on ESPN 102.5 The Game.