Q & A with Back Sports Page…

If you were writing the blueprint on becoming a radio host, you would never follow Brandon Tierney’s path. As a child in Brooklyn, Tierney modeled his baseball game after Don Mattingly. He would later attend Marist College where he played baseball.  Always a huge sports fan, Tierney knew he wanted to break into the sports industry in some capacity.

While at Marist, Tierney studied journalism and developed a love for the world of media. While working as an intern at WFAN radio in New York, Tierney observed and listened to some of the most well-known talents in the metropolitan area, including Joe Benigno, Mike Francesa, and Chris Russo. Following his internship, Tierney worked behind the scenes at Fox 5 in New York before starting off as a morning show host out of Allentown, PA.

After future stops in Detroit and Las Vegas, Tierney eventually landed back home in 2003 at ESPN 1050 in New York. He started at ESPN by providing updates and weekend shows before eventually landing a co-hosting spot with Stephen A. Smith in 2004. Currently, Tierney co-hosts Mac & Tierney with Jody MacDonald every weekday from 1:00-3:00pm.

Randy Zellea recently spoke with Brandon and discussed his career as an Athlete, behind the microphone, and what he wants for the rest of his career in the first part of this two part interview.

Randy Zellea: When you were a kid and you first got into sports, tell me what did you play? What did you love?

Brandon Tierney: I played everything. I played in the street growing up. You name it, if it was round, I found a wall to throw it off. It’s funny because as a Brooklyn kid, all I heard about was stickball because with my dad, who had Brooklyn roots as well, that’s all they did in the ’50s and ’60s. It was different, but when I was growing up it was more about whiffle ball, it was more about stoopball, it was obviously more about hoops. I didn’t play soccer, that’s changed a lot since the earlier to mid-’80s when I was growing up. [I also played] street football and it was rough, it was fun. [My block] was a good block, a good street to grow up on. A lot of firemen, cops, teachers, just good Irish/Italian/Jewish hardworking people who wanted to see their kids do well. It’s funny, you know, Mattingly said this years later, the reason he hit to left field so well is because in order to hit a home run playing whiffle ball with his brothers he had to hit the ball to left field because that was the location of the fence or the roof, and it was the same for me. Not to bore anybody with a relatively average career, all through high school and all through college, even as a first baseman, my power was the other way because we grew up playing that way. But it was just one street, it was always active, and it was a great time to grow up and there was always a ball bouncing.

RZ: You played college baseball, correct?

BT: Yes, correct. I played at Marist.

Marist College, 1996

RZ: Can you tell our readers a little bit about that experience? Playing college baseball while still having to go to class and being a student-athlete?

BT: Well, that’s the thing, if you’re not playing basketball at UConn, St. John’s, or any prominent school, you actually have to go to school. I don’t want to make that sound the wrong way, I mean there are certain standards at most schools, not to single out UConn or St. John’s, but they’re local and that’s why I went with them. But at Marist, it was pretty rigorous. We’d get up at five in the morning during the winter months and go to the gym to run. You’d have to make this trek in the biting cold from the dorm when I lived on campus and you had this whipping wind coming off the Hudson and it was unbearable. Then we’d go in, run agility drills and  eventually get around to hitting and lifting weights. Then you’d take a shower, get something to eat, and  go to class. If you’re not doing well with a course , you’d better pick it up because teachers aren’t going to roll you through the turnstile at Marist just so you can play baseball. There was a responsibility that came with playing ball. Looking back, even though I was lucky enough to get some scholarship money, my core group of friends weren’t that good and we were a Division I program. But, the year after I left the transformation at Marist began  We won a few games and played in the Regionals against Florida State, led by future 1st round pick J.D. Drew.   So it’s funny when I say I played at Marist and people say, “Wow! That’s a Northeast power!” Marist was a great time in my life. It’s been a true passion and I was able to combine the elements of athletics, the friendships, and the commitment, and hit the books enough to walk out of Marist somewhat polished and ready to tackle my field.

RZ: You say you were studying journalism and being an athlete. Both on the field and in the journalism field who did you admire? Who did you want to model yourself after?

BT: Well, as a player, that’s easy–Mattingly. I can give you four or five other names in different sports—Bernard King, Chris Mullen, Wesley Walker, guys like that, certainly Ewing. But, there was one guy and that was Mattingly because baseball is what I was best at—I was just drawn to him. The thing that always stuck out about Donnie and the way he played was that he had this flair, and this smoothness if you will, but it wasn’t shown off. Watching Donnie throwing the ball around the horn after a double play–he used to throw it off his back foot and kind of fling it from the side and kind of move his glove in a certain way, and I used to do that–or tried to. There’s a whole generation of kids who walk on the basketball court like Kobe, and Kobe walks on the court like that because he followed Jordan. There’s a certain bounce that is very detectable. The other thing with Mattingly, he was a worker, he was a grinder. He wasn’t a great athlete, neither was I, but he was a student of the game and looked like the perfect ballplayer in those pinstripes. He was the guy, so I always tried to emulate him as a player.

Then as a broadcaster, I’ve got to be honest with you, as much as I listened and was sometimes completely zoned into the medium, I wanted to be a player, I didn’t aspire to be a broadcaster even though I was studying journalism in college. Growing up, I never thought about being Brent Musburger or the great Bob Costas. That wasn’t my agenda. My agenda was to go out there, play ball, come home when it was too dark, and eat. That was really it. But there was something that was gripping about radio that just sucked me in. A lot of that was WFAN—1050 ESPN Radio wasn’t around, Mike and Chris, the rise of the Knicks, and the passion that just spewed out of the radio, it was like a drug, it really was. Now, as I am in my mid-’30s as I look back at my on-air style, which is very much who I am, I don’t think I deviate too much from that. I think I talk pretty quick, I’m opinionated, I’m passionate, I would say that there’s a few people that I drew something from along the way and one of them is definitely Russo. I mean, for me, Russo was an entertainer, and a guy who just cranked it up.

RZ: What was your reaction?  I assume you’ve met them before.

BT: I interned there in 1997 but didn’t have a whole lot of interaction. I was pretty much upstairs since [at the time] WFAN was structured with three stories and I was in the promotions department which was on the third floor. The old studio in Queens was in the basement, and to be totally honest, I would skip out on the promotions and go and sit and just watch the shows. I remember they had this little back studio to cut promos and commercials and stuff like that, and I would go there once or twice a week and we’d do a fake show. You know the microphone wasn’t on, there was no tape rolling, and we’d just start ripping away–NBA Draft, Knicks, whatever it was. But yeah, I’ve met both, probably know Mike a little bit better than Chris, but even that’s more as a peer.

RZ: Did you do any college radio?

BT: None. That’s the thing I really enjoyed and I always have, I made a pact a long time ago because some people along the way were very nice to me and some people weren’t. But one guy who really jumped out when I was interning there was Steve Somers. Steve was just so willing to share his experiences and it was really appreciated. I had this ridiculous desire to make it in this business, and boy, it’s a crapshoot man. It’s like trying to be a movie star, or a musician, you don’t know if you’re going to make it. A lot of people who have made it are very protective of their turf because it’s a field that’s tough. Steve was awesome. I made a pact with myself, that if I ever made it, I will be the guy who talks to the interns, one of the good guys. When they ask me, “How do you get to where you are? How do you do what you do?” I am always honest, I say you better be ready to travel, you’re going to be broke for a long time, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it. I can say that you probably won’t make it the way I made it because my path was very unconventional and to answer your question, I did not do radio or newspaper in college. In hindsight, it might’ve accelerated thing, but you know I was busy playing ball and that was my education. Those are the things that I take and I do think it’s unique and that’s why if somebody is trying to make it the way I did –good luck, not happening.

RZ: Well, after your internship at WFAN you were out in Detroit, correct?

BT: Actually, Detroit was later. After WFAN, that was only a couple of months as an intern, I did some work for Fox 5 in New York, and that was a good experience behind the scenes. You know running scripts, working the green room, just things you have to do.  I was getting up at, I think, I had to be in at 4:30am. I had just graduated and I was still at home. So I’d get up at 2:30am, drive into the city, I think I was making maybe $8 an hour, and I’d listen to Benigno who’s awesome—I’m good friends with Joe, big fan. But I’d listen to Benigno, he’s great, he’s awesome, coming in at 3:00am listening to him ranting and raving about the Jets. I’d work until about noon and I’d go home and sleep. I think I was there at Good Day for four months and then I got real lucky, I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon [my job] in Allentown, PA. I was there for about eight months, a morning show, and it was “you do it all.” You answer the phones,  cut the promos,  write the promos,  host the show, and announce a high school football game on a Friday night for $50 and  love it. All these things put you in front of a microphone so I was there and learned.  God if I hear a tape from that show it was probably horrific, but at that point I knew it was there. When I finally had a chance to go in front of a microphone, albeit a very small audience, I knew that I was going to make it. I didn’t know that it would eventually take me to Las Vegas, and then Detroit, and then thankfully back home here at 1050, SNY, and some Big East stuff, but it did. So, it was a long road man, a lot of travels, and I had a chance to see a great portion of our country, meet people, cover teams, and when I was in Detroit, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. That team was loaded and it was an amazing part of this awesome journey.

RZ: Then when you came over to 1050 and back to New York, 1050 was fairly new at that point…

BT: Yep, I came back in 2003 and they opened the doors in 2001, so yeah, it was a little less than two years.

RZ: I heard a story, and this could be Don La Greca overexaggerating, but when the Devils won the Cup, there was a story that you came in when the Cup was sitting there and picked it up.

BT: Yes, that’s right, and they were not happy! Scott Gomez was here and it was cool because they came in with the Cup and put it in the conference room. I knew the tradition because I went through this in Detroit with the Wings one or two years prior. They put the Cup on the table and everybody’s there. We roll in there in awe of this massive hunk of trophy, and I said, “I’m getting a picture, I don’t care what anybody says,” and there’s the guy with the white gloves, he’s just staring me down and he turned away for a second and I’m like, alright here’s my chance, and I don’t remember who snapped the picture, but they were ready and got it. The guy starts yelling at me, and I was like, “Buddy, relax.”  [Then] I walked out. So, yes, Don’s story is right. Afterwards Gomez said, “Don’t worry about that guy, do whatever you want, we’ll get another picture if you want it.” I was like, “That-a-boy, Scottie.”

RZ: Your career over at 1050, you started off with Wally and the Keeg, and then Stephen A. Smith, and you were doing a lot of stuff at night. It took a little while for you to get your own show, what was it like to have to be partners and do minor rolls, doing the updates, you’ve pretty much done it all with 1050. Can you talk with us going back from 2003 to now on what it was like to go through?

BT: It was frustrating at points. I was always thankful to be here, but the biggest challenge was that most of my shows have been solo. When I was hired, I was doing the updates and  was contracted for a weekend show, I believe it was four hours originally on Saturday and Sunday, and I was able to still do my things on the weekends. Of course, there’s some ego thinking I should be in this spot, I should be here–the truth of the matter is when I look back, and I couldn’t say this a couple years ago, but I needed to mature. Not that I wasn’t talented, not that I didn’t think I could do it, but the timing worked out well in the sense that, sometimes there’s something to be said for being put in the wrong spot at the wrong time. And maybe I could’ve handled it. There’s a part of me that says, “Yeah, I could have. I would’ve done well.” But it was a past that at times was excruciatingly slow, I’m not going to lie to you. But, it worked out the right way and exposed me to different people.

You just mentioned Stephen A.— I’ll never forget the first show I ever did with Stephen, his first day, it was 2004, he’s in the studio, I’m coming back from Queens from the Mets home opener, I believe Glavine was pitching that day. I’m set up on the LIRR platform and never met the guy.  He’s become a very good friend, and will be at my wedding, but I am like, “Who is this guy? This guy is loud, he’s louder than me. Who the hell is this dude?” Within the first four minutes of the show we get into a pretty heated debate, but you know what I was like if he is going to throw jabs I am going to throw haymakers, let’s go.  I don’t know if it was awkward or how it sounded,  and I don’t know if Stephen needed that kind of response, he is a very strong-minded person. I think that if the wrong person was in that chair, Stephen would’ve run him over like a freight train. He knew, and I think he sensed early, that I was going to push back. I’ll tell you, I’ve heard this from a lot of people and believe it, we had something that was just different and unique. I really believe that. Also, being with him put me on a different level because he was already a national name. But the things that we brought, he and I, we had conversations off-the-air, during commercials, that I don’t know if you could say everything on the air, but that were just riveting. Racial issues, stereotypes, he became a friend, and a guy that I really respected. I always told people asking what it was like being with Stephen, and I would say he is the most genuine, sincere, good-hearted person that I have ever worked with. Now Jody Mac is quickly getting into that territory. Jody Mac is a beautiful person, and I am enjoying working with him. But it was different because you know the other thing you had, let’s face it, it’s delicate, you had an element of black and white. When you have two guys of opinions, who represent both groups of people proudly, but also with an open mind, you’re going to go places that you just can’t go anywhere else. It was awesome and I loved working with him.

RZ: You had come from working with Wally and the Keeg which was a totally different animal, both good and bad.

BT: Well, Wally, I love Wally. Tom had left New York a couple years ago, Tom has got a huge heart, so does Wally. Wally is more like me. Wally reacts. Wally is not afraid to put up his dukes and verbally spar, get after it, and I connect with him well. I just saw Wally, a couple days ago, and I always thought this before I met him, he’s one of those writers where you read his words and you feel emotion. He’s an emotional guy. There wasn’t much contrast there, and the same with Stephen.  Now Jody is resolute in what he believes. But he is also more open to letting me rip it for a minute, and maybe just step back for a second and he senses that because he went through it with Sid. When you work with certain types of personalities, you know he’s a good quarterback. He starts the show, he’s the first voice you hear, I’m fine with that, it’s cool, we just tee it up, and he’s a pro. The other thing about Jody is that you can go, and you can’t do this with everybody, you can go in different directions because he knows every sport. That’s what I take pride in too—we don’t have to be mainstream, and that’s good because there’s a bit of unpredictability. At least I hope there is and I sense that there is in terms of the topic matter. I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t know how it would work, but it’s working, I feel it.

Follow Brandon Tierney on Twitter at @Brandontierney

Visit Brandon’s Official Facebook Page by clicking here.

Follow Randy Zellea on Twitter @zellea21
Follow The Back Sports Page on Twitter @backsportspage
Follow The Back Sports Page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/backsportspage

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1 Comment

  1. nice read, BT

    I only tuned in the Stephan’s radio show to listen to you and because he was the only one on the channel that would fit some basketball talk into most of the shows. M. Kay would(and rightfully so) talk about baseball constantly

    Was very happy when I heard you get your own show. I remembering listening to you a couple times on the weekend.

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