50 Years Of WBBM Newsradio Sports Reporters: Rick Gregg & Kevin Jackman

Rick Gregg
May 10, 2018 - 11:59 am

Photo provided by Rick Gregg

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In honor of WBBM Newsradio's 50th anniversary, some of WBBM Newradio's sportscasters, past and present, have shared their Newsradio memories.

WBBM Newsradio's Rick Gregg and Kevin Jackman sat down to look back at their careers with the station and talk shop.

Gregg: We are celebrating 50 years of WBBM Newsradio becoming an all-news radio station. It is rather amazing to hold a format for a couple of years in radio sometimes, but not here. This is who we are, this is what we do. We do sports, as well as news, of course. I am Rick Gregg, Kevin Jackman is here with me. Kevin, you are the young gun on our staff, I guess, and what is that like?

Jackman: It was pretty intimidating at first I can tell you that. 

Gregg: Who was the most intimidating? Was it me? C'mon you can be honest.

Jackman: Probably the long guys, Josh and Jeff. I mean their voices have been on the station for a long time, but I have to say, it's really interesting and I starting thinking about this before we started recording, the first month or so, I found myself super susceptible to influence. So I would almost mimic the person I was following on air, because I was listening to see the content, the order, the format that you guys would use and I would find myself "Ofman-esque" or "Kerner-esque" or "Rick Gregg-esque." So I thought that was kind of interesting. 

Gregg: Yes, you have to find your voice when you do this and we all have different styles. You can listen to it on the air. Josh does Josh's thing that I can't even begin to copy and I am not going to try. Jeff does Jeff's thing, George does George's thing. Hopefully I do my thing and Kerner does his thing, and you do yours now, it just takes awhile to find that and some of us are able to hone that elsewhere and some of us jump right into the big leagues, like you, call up from AAA...Am I right that you got on Jeff Joniak's radar because you interned at Bourbonnais, right? 

Jackman: I did, so I was down there with him for about three weeks. I drove from Bourbonnais from the North Shore, every day, there and back, for three weeks. I think that kind of boosted my stock?  

Gregg: Well if nothing else, it proved that you wanted it. This is the hidden secret, I have never actually been to Bourbonnais, as a reporter, as a working person. I went as a fan when I was younger, but I have never been to Bourbonnais, and the reason is because I didn't intern for Jeff and Jeff is always there or is always at Halas Hall. So it is very rare for us to need a second person out there, so I've never been out there. I've done a whole lot of other stuff over the last couple years. I started here filling in on the Sunday night shift, that you do now, in 2010 right before the Blackhawks won that first Stanley Cup; so it was about Easter Sunday in 2010. This is weird, I mark my time, here on the station, by how long it has been since Duncan Keith lost all of his teeth. That's pretty much how this goes, because it was a couple weeks in there, I started doing that and then actually, Mark Grote moved to the Score and there was an opening, if I remember right, and this is the one that George Ofman eventually got to come back here, whatever year that was, I think it was 2012. I auditioned then. They took me out to Wrigley and had me do a game when Lou Piniella was still the manager of the Cubs, and I thought I did well, but George got the job, but hey, he's got 30, however many years of experience, and I had a couple weeks. And then of course, we lost our good friend Eric Brown, he got sick and passed away in 2014, so since then I've done the full-time thing, which means, since 2010...three Blackhawks Stanley Cups - not being in the building, but I have to tell you, the third of those cups, the day of the parade was one of the longest days of my life. 

Photo provided by Rick Gregg

Jackman: Well you were there, you were in the middle of the rally weren't you?

Gregg: Well it was great. The first two times, or at least the first time, they let media members ride in the parade downtown, but they didn't let us do that the third time; which okay fine, so here I am at the United Center, at whatever time in the morning 5:30, 6 a.m., waiting for the players to get there. They get there, off they go. I start running towards the Blue Line. I get on the Blue Line near the United Center. I take the Blue Line down, I get off, I fight the crowds, I get into Soldier Field, just as the motorcade that I has seen off, shows up at the Field Museum to come by. It was a long day, it was a lot of fun. 

Jackman: It was you and Lisa Fielding was down there, right?

Gregg: No actually, it was me and Mike Krauser, were down there in Soldier Field for that rally. Lisa and I did the Cubs in 2016, which was also a lot of fun. It was like a parade review, like here comes Javy Baez and doesn't he look lovely June. That sort of thing. 

Jackman: And then you sprinkle in George Ofman in the helicopter, right?

Gregg: Well, Ofman is in the chopper, Josh and Jeff are back in the booth back at the studios at Prudential Two, Lisa and I were down there. Where were you?

Jackman: I was nowhere to be found. I was watching somewhere else, on TV.

Photo provided by Rick Gregg

Gregg: And poor Dave Kerner, he was doing what he could, but he also had to anchor in the afternoon once everybody was done, because he we go, back to regular programming - sports at :15 and :45 past each hour on the home of the Bears; which whenever anyone asks me what I do, I say I work at WBBM, I do sports, you may have heard us, sports at :15 and :45. You say that tag over and over again, you kind of hear it in your sleep.

Jackman: And people say, how do you say it so fast, and you say you say it twelve times every day, for how many years and...

Gregg: Well, I don't know if you get this, but we are talking pretty fast right now and I get, how do you talk so fast? Like I don't know.

Jackman: I was at the doctor's office and somebody recognized my name, one of the nurses or receptionists or somebody, and shes goes, 'you talk too fast.' I go, 'excuse me, thank you. Thank you very much for the review.'

Gregg: We hear that sometimes and we know we talk fast, but we have a lot to get in and you only have two minutes. They say you have two minutes, you very rarely have two minutes. You get a minute and a half, a minute twenty, depending on what spots come in, what commercials come in, if there is breaking news. You just have to be able to kind of handle it. And when did you get comfortable? 

Jackman: That killed me early on. It did. It threw me through a loop. So I know everybody has their own format in the sports department, for instance some people do bullet points for certain stories and kind of ad-lib from their on out, and then other people like myself, and I know George does this as well, they right out meticulously what they are going to say. So what I would do early on, is I would type out verbatim what I was saying and if I had to be knocked off the course, I was toast. So I had in my mind, two minutes, two full minutes, then if I had to cut in the process, I was done.

Photo provide by Kevin Jackman

Gregg: I have the Blackhawks to thank. I could always jump around a little bit in my script, that wasn't the problem. The problem for me was, okay here is the red light, talk, and without something in front of you, fill five minutes, fill seven minutes, and that's just something that you kind of learn as you go along, but I said I have the Blackhawks to thanks and I mean that because of that third championship, not on the parade route, but a couple nights before. They win it, I'm in studio and we are doing two hours live. I mean it's okay we had George and Dave at the United Center, and I don't think their equipment worked all so well, so we were kinda doing one in here, one in there. We can pull in some interviews from the podium or from the locker room. The other thing that is fun in that kind of situation, you kind of have to understand how the studio works - we are in a windowed booth, which is great, along with the news anchor who is on the other side of the table and has the controls. That person can see over our head, out into the newsroom, where the editor is, who is the person who can say let's do this, let's do that, if they have something to add; but we have our backs to that group, so we don't know what is going on. I am trying to rely on, I believe it was Bob Conway that night and his cues, we are going to go to this, we are going to go to the other thing. You can't turn around and you can't stop, because you are not running commercials, this is a big event, so you are just going...I remember that night I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 pages of notes. I am not kidding, I could scroll through them, I could flip through them, whatever, I had about 20 pages of notes. I did not have that when the Cubs won the World Series, I did not need it by then.

Jackman: So that's what happened to me. I was on the air for one of the World Series games that went final and Cubs win. This was the first time I had to break in for news cycle in addition to :15 and :45 sportscasts. I was not adequately prepared and I prepare pretty well, but I didn't know what that was going to entail. That constant news cycle, so I was not ready the way you were obviously ready.

Gregg: And I was there when they did win the thing. I was on the air that night and that was fun because, and I have the tape, the game went into the rain delay, and it kept going, and going and going, you have extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. We are still going sports at :15 and :45 and I don't remember which one it was, at the moment, I am closing up, because the game has not ended yet. We know it is going to end soon, we don't know what is going to happen with sports at :15 and :45 and I literally paused in the middle of the outcue and then the only thing that came to my mind to say was, 'the heck with that.' It was over and the only thing I had planned to say was that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and then I was going to repeat it, because it's one of those things - it had been 108 years - you kind of have to say it more than once. You had to believe it, you had to let it sink in. You've got a city of, you know, 3 million people and another 8 million people around the state or in the area who are going crazy at this point and you have to let is soak in. 

Photo provided by Rick Gregg

Jackman: How hard was your heart pounding in that moment?

Gregg: Hard, but the good news is, again, the Blackhawks experience allowed me to take control of it and I have a little thing in the back of my head where if I do something that is really good, I have to convince myself every single person in this city heard it and not only that, it is going to go in the Radio Hall of Fame and if I do something bad, eh, no one is listening anyway. And that is of course not true, but it is the little lies that you tell yourself to get through the night. Anyways, you know us all, George and Dave and Jeff and Josh and Jordan and myself. Which one of us are you going to make fun of? You've got an open microphone, let's go. 

Jackman: I am not going to make fun of any of you people. You are the people that have influenced...I came off the top of this that you have all influenced me, so by making fun of you, by insulting you, I am kind of insulting myself, in part.

Gregg: We do joke around a lot in the background, off the the microphone, when we see each other. Oh, you know what I just remembered, that I was going to bring up - you interned with Jeff, that is how you eventually got the job. I was hired, and did not meet Jeff Joniak for over two years. I have never laid eyes on the guy, unless on television or something.

Jackman: That doesn't surprise me. Don Schuble, who's the old late night editor, said he's the hardest working man in show business because he is always at Halas Hall. 

Gregg: He is, he's always up there when you hear him, and a lot of the times, if you don't have a trained ear you can't tell, but he'll do a lot of his afternoons from Halas Hall, so he can do more Bears stuff and get more involved with the team and that is certainly a level of dedication - I'm not saying I don't have it, but I don't have that job to understand it. It's crazy.

Photo provided by Kevin Jackman

Gregg: Alright so here we are, it's 2015, 50 years, who knows what this station is going to be like 50 years from now. What do you think? Where are we going?

Jackman: I think more of the same. People keep saying radio is going to die, and yet it is still here. And it's actually, we have seen a lot of releases lately, it has the most reach of any medium out there, because it is so accessible. So sports updates are going to change, I think we've talked about this, you and I have even talked about this, it's not score based anymore, you don't need to inform people about scores, it's more the stories, it's more the details that may have fallen through the cracks, I think that's the direction is going. That's what I like to bring to the table.

Gregg: And I believe, strongly, as you know, I've definitely told you this before, if you don't break through the noise at the beginning of whatever you are saying, if the first sentence out of your mouth is not a good one or the first idea, than people aren't listening. And radio is such a personal medium, because really where do people listen? They listen in their bed when they wake up, when they go to sleep, or they listen in their cars when it's just you and that person - that's a valuable thing and you have to treat it like it is valuable and you have to have a quality product in front of you or they will find something else to listen to, I will find something else to listen to. And I am not saying I do that a lot, but sometimes you do, and so I think the first words out of your mouth are important and you need to know what comes off the top. After that, just tell a good story. 

Jackman: And it is how you say it too. Because one of the first thing's Jeff told me when I was an intern was, stop speaking at me, speak with me. I was a college kid, I was so focused on my voice and I wanted to speak like this...but nobody talks like that. So he was like hey, you and I are having a drink at the table, let's just talk, what's going on, what happened at the Cubs game today.

Photo provided by Rick Gregg

Gregg: And the good news is, well we don't always know more than the people that are listening or about everything, we have the ability to tap into some things that other people don't know. And then you can amplify that. And I am not talking about the statistics or that number, but this thing that happened. I remember maybe I shouldn't have said this, but right after the Cubs in 2015 or 2014, they had just clinched a playoff birth, and the next day I come into the old Wrigley Field Clubhouse and two Cubs, I don't remember who they were, stopped to hug each other because they had no seen each other since last night and we did it, this was awesome. And one of them dumps their coffee cup on the ground on accident and now there is this stain in the middle of the locker room, and so there's the story, because they are going to have a party that day with the champagne and the shaking up, but look it is already stained because whoever it was knocked their Starbucks over, because they are so happy. That's the story, that's the kind of color that you can add, that helps you break through a little bit. It helps not you stand up, but the station stand out, the story stand out - it's entertaining. 

Jackman: It is, and sports is entertainment, it is not black and white, it is not a box score. We focus so much on statistics all the time, but it is, they are people.

Gregg: There is no point in giving a number, if you don't give it context. And that's just something you are going to have to learn right off the bat and you carry over. Like you said, we don't do scores - it's not that we don't do scores anymore, scores are important, you can get your scores in a lot of places, what you can't get is what that means. That is always so important, who care, oh I don't know, Toronto beat Washington by 15 points in the NBA, unless Toronto then clinches a playoff spot, or even though John Wall for the Wizards had 800 points - that'd be record, if that ever happened. 

Photo provided by Kevin Jackman

Jackman: And I'll say this, I've stolen something from you. Writing is huge if you are in this business, and you may be listening to this and you may not recognize the fact that we spend a lot of time writing and trying to frame things in different ways. You in particular like to turn phrases that maybe are unique, you like to use almost like a poetry style. I've heard wraps that you have done and I think you know exactly which one I am talking about.

Gregg: Are you talking about James Shields?

Jackman: Yes, it gave me a different way of thinking about the way I can write things that maybe make them - sports is inherently entertaining, but you can write them and enhance them, give a different perspective to them. It's really fun to play with, fun to recite on air when you nail it, you nail it and then you feel good and then you get other people saying, hey that was pretty cool. 

Gregg: That does happen. You get that note, that hit on Twitter, somebody saw that, or you get a phone call, or your mom is listening and heard it...If you can't have fun - be better than the game. That is the single best piece of advice I have ever been given by anybody at all. Be better than the game.