Looking back at the history of MLB Network Radio, through its hosts and founders, for the channel’s 10th anniversary, which debut on Feb. 15th, 2015.
Ten years ago, MLB Home Plate (now known as MLB Network Radio) made its debut on XM Satellite Radio. So much has happened over the past decade of baseball coverage, from the inaugural World Baseball Classic to the Mitchell Report to the Giants hoisting the trophy for the third time in five years.
Over the coming year, those that have grown alongside the channel will share their stories and memories from both on and off the air to highlight what a great ride it has been and will continue to be. Follow @MLBNetworkRadio on Twitter to get channel highlights from the past decade all season long.
“You’ve got 15 days. Go!”
In early 2005, XM Satellite Radio announced a baseball talk channel to complement their new deal that brought Major League Baseball games to the service. The goal was to create a channel that was unlike anything else that had been done on radio. But there was one catch: Pitchers and catchers reported in just a few weeks, and the channel was barely staffed.
Matt Fishman (now Program Director of SiriusXM College Sports Nation) was hired as the channel’s Executive Producer, coming over from The Score in Chicago, and Chris Eno (now MLB Network Radio’s Program Director) came down from WEEI in Boston to produce The Show with Kevin Kennedy and Rob Dibble.
“Not only were we starting a new channel, we were living in a new place. And we working for, for all intents and purposes, a brand new company,” said Matt Fishman. “People also didn’t know what it was, so you had all of that as well going on. Those were all the challenges right away. And oh by the way, you’ve got to build a staff, fit in all the on-air pieces we’ve arranged, and, oh by the way, we want to do it totally different than anything’s ever been done before. You’ve got 15 days. GO!”
Chris Eno echoed those statements.
“It wasn’t day one of the company, but we only had [about] 3 million subscribers then,” Eno said. “I remember going to spring training, our first spring training. We launched the 15th. ST tour had to be 15 to 20 days later. We had Rob [Dibble] in Florida and Kevin [Kennedy] in Arizona, so two different shows. … I remember going to a couple of camps and meeting with the PR guy, and one of the PR guys didn’t know who we were. He’s like, ‘Who are you again?’ and had to call Major League Baseball to verify that we were a partner and cleared to be there. So it was THAT new. It came together THAT quickly.”
Opening [Radio] Day
There’s no such thing as a “soft open” in radio, so Fishman and Eno knew they needed to hit the ground running.
Said Eno: “The inaugural lineup included people like Larry Bowa, Buck Martinez, Charley Steiner, Rob Dibble, Kevin Kennedy, Cal and Bill Ripken. As a producer, it was incredible to be surrounded by talent like that. On any other radio outlet, if you booked one or two of those guys as guests it was probably the best show of your week. At XM, they were the daily hosts.”
The on-air light went on at 6 am ET that Tuesday morning with Mark Patrick, Larry Bowa and Buck Martinez behind the mics for MLB This Morning. The day progressed from MLB Beat with Charley Steiner to Fantasy Focus before Eno’s inaugural afternoon drive edition of The Show – hosted by Kennedy and Dibble – from 3 to 6 pm ET.
“I remember everybody being in the studio during (The Show),” Eno recalled. “The heavy hitters in the company were in that studio watching me produce. They wanted to have a good show that day, a show of power.”
Among the pressures that day for Eno and Fishman was to book A-list guests, to make a splash in the baseball community and in the industry. Jose Canseco joined Kevin and Rob in studio for an hour on the first show and from the second his voice hit the airwaves, Eno knew The Show had hit a nerve.
“Canseco’s book must have come out a week or two before, he was THE guy in baseball,” Eno said. “I think we blew off all the breaks. It became, ‘We don’t take breaks. We don’t have to do anything, we’re satellite radio.’”
It could have been easy for Fishman, Eno and the rest of the staff to get caught up in long days, technical issues, and the stress of having to prove themselves. But they reminded themselves about the mission of the channel from the start.
“We set out to be different than what was offered elsewhere in sports radio,” Eno said. “The evolution had been guy-talk, angry radio and we tried really hard not to have an over-the-top, in your face, unnecessarily angry and negative conversation.”
“It was supposed to be building up the game, and getting people an idea of what it really means to play the sport from a player’s perspective, a manager’s perspective.”
So was the stress worth it?
Eno certainly thinks so.
“Mark Patrick said a really cool thing, (he said), ‘You should remember this day. You don’t get to do this very often. You don’t get to be a part of a launch of a network. You don’t get to be a part of something at the ground floor. We should really soak this up and think about where we were and try to live in the moment, because it’s fleeting.’”
“And he was right.”