Michael Kay: Making The Move To Afternoon Drive
Michael Kay is misunderstood. Because of the team he works for and because of his opinions he expresses on “The Michael Kay Show” on 1050 ESPN, the Yankee announcer gets flack for being biased towards his primary employer.
And it’s simply not the case.
“The Yankees have no control over what I say [at ESPN],” Kay said. “Obviously, they’re a big part of the YES Network. The general perception is that they’re very involved, but they’re really not. In all my years on radio, George Steinbrenner never said I should say something or that I shouldn’t say something; he never criticized me.”
It’s just something Kay has learned to live with the last few years and with success comes change. The announcer and his crew have made the move to the afternoon drive-time slot from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. to compete against the most successful sports show in the country, WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog.
“It’s also great for my life because doing the games, then getting up a quarter to seven was really tough the last three years,” Kay explained. “I was exhausted all the time. [Potential health reasons] if you’re going to be in radio, you want to be in Morning Drive [6-9] or Afternoon Drive [4-7].”
Another reason for the change is the unique format that “The Michael Kay Show” presents listeners. Instead of a two man booth, like “Mike and the Mad Dog” or “Wally and the Keeg,” whom Kay replaced, his show runs itself like a sports version of Don Imus or Howard Stern. Kay’s whole crew becomes stars on the show and their input is part of its success.
Anchor Don LaGreca, engineer Joey Salvia, call screener “The Late” Dan Graca, (he was late to work once and the name stuck) - and producer Rob Astorino, the show has playful banter and music parodies along with sports talk throughout the day.
“We try to do the show as if three guys b.s.ing and people are listening in and having a good time,” Kay explained. “It just became a rapport between the guys, Joey and Don and myself. It just evolved; it wasn’t anything that we sat and planned.
“That when the station came on the air, they wanted that guy talk thing but I don’t think you can force it.”
It wasn’t always that way for the sports announcer. After graduating Fordham University in 1982, Kay started working for the New York Post and then moved on to the Daily News in 1989. He stayed at that paper until 1993, when his long time broadcasting partner, John Sterling, suggested him for a new full time gig.
“I had worked with John, during rain delays. He had recommended me for the Yankee broadcasting job,” Kay said. “There was a long two or three month thing, where there were 5000 applicants and I ended up with the job. Since I didn’t have any on-air experience other than at Fordham, he was the guy I learned from him.”
“The most important thing I picked up from him was just be yourself on the air.”
It thus started the 10-year radio pairing of Kay and Sterling.
It wasn’t always the smoothest ride for the announcer. Kay admits in the beginning that he wasn’t the best announcer out there. In fact, after college Kay says he sounded like “Vinny Barbarino,” which is why he went to the newspaper route. It helped that Kay had some people in his corner and let him learn the position on the job.
“I listen to tapes now of that first year and I was awful. I was being criticized in the press. It was bad. I probably didn’t belong on the air,” Kay said.
“On WABC, Don Bulakis was the president and gm and he called me into his office in July or August of that first year and said, listen, I know that you get a lot of criticism. But I signed you because I believe in you and we’re going to keep you the entire length of the contract. Don’t worry about it; just be yourself.’”
That decision turned out to be the right one and now Kay is one of the most recognizable voices in New York. His baseball announcing is a success along with his radio program.With everything going his way, the announcer still knows his limitations.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m not going to take a cheap shot to bury George Steinbrenner for no reason,” Kay added. “That’s just stupid.”
At least he’s honest.