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UPCOMING EVENTS

After KNBR Exit, Paul McCaffrey Looks Forward to Sports Talk Return

It was just another morning at KNBR in San Francisco with riveting and entertaining sports discussion surrounding the local teams. The Golden State Warriors lost a game by one point the night before against the Sacramento Kings, and there was speculation surrounding the San Francisco Giants’ offseason plans. Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey, encompassing the local duo of Murph and Mac that had been on the air for 18 years, were talking about these topics and welcomed several special guests for interviews, including San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa. As the 49ers were gearing up to make a Super Bowl run though, the congenial sound that had become a familiar presence suddenly, without warning, ceased to exist.

There were ostensible warning signs that McCaffrey detected during the latter years of hosting the morning drive program. Cumulus Media, which owns KNBR and a cluster of stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, introduced new management in 2021 that presumably caused a change in culture. McCaffrey perceived an overall lack of connection with the executive team, underscored by a dearth of conversations surrounding promotions and public broadcasts. After years of being visible and in the community, the show became somewhat confined to the studio and purportedly more restrained in its freedom.

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“It wasn’t quite as much fun as we had in the past, and the management group that came in were certainly less involved with us, meaning the Murph and Mac show, than previous management groups had been, and this gave us pause,” McCaffrey explained. “We were scratching our heads a little saying, ‘Huh? We’re suddenly kind of feeling like we’re radioactive here, and I’m not sure why’ because we had a lot of success, so the feeling wasn’t a positive one for me.”

On top of that, the program director role exhibited instability over the preceding years with several departures and new hires. Kevin Graham left the station last August for health reasons, which came two years after Jeremiah Crowe stepped aside and moved to Las Vegas. Cumulus Media had granted afternoon host Adam Copeland the program director responsibilities in November, marking the third person to hold the role in a four-year span. Mere weeks after Copeland started the role, KNBR made sweeping alterations to its lineup that affected the livelihoods of several employees and stunned dedicated listeners.

Following the late-November edition of the show, an intern informed Murphy and McCaffrey that they had been called by management for separate meetings. McCaffrey met with executives at the station, including its general manager, where he learned that his time at KNBR would be coming to an end effective immediately.

“I always equated it to like a life in the mafia, because if you’re in the mafia, there are two likely endings,” McCaffrey said. “One of them is you’re going to be jailed, and the other one is you’ll be whacked, and in radio, you don’t get jailed, but I’ve [seen] guys get whacked. I saw Gary Radnich get whacked [and] Ralph Barbieri get whacked, so it’s a long way of saying I was not surprised, and I knew that would be the most likely outcome at some point, so when it came, I wasn’t shocked.”

While McCaffrey and several other KNBR employees were laid off, Murphy was retained in morning drive and paired with Markus Boucher as his new co-host, debuting as the Murph and Markus program almost immediately thereafter. Although the layoffs did not change the dynamic between Murphy and McCaffrey, the situation represented an undesired outcome over which they had no control.

“We were basically forced into a divorce that we did not want,” McCaffrey said, “and it was unfortunate because here’s a situation where you’ve got two guys, partners for 18 years that genuinely like and respect each other that were forced into a separation that we really didn’t want.”

McCaffrey seldom listens to the KNBR morning show at this point because it feels weird to him, comparing it to seeing an ex-girlfriend in public with her new significant other. Nonetheless, he tries not to feel resentment towards KNBR about the situation and focuses on other aspects of his life without bitter sentiment.

“The truth of the matter is I don’t want to give them that much of my energy because the people that are involved with what happened and what led to the breakup of the Murph and Mac show, these are people that had had no impact on the history of that show,” McCaffrey said. “They basically just got here just a couple of years ago, and we had already built our brand. We had already hit our success prior to their arrival, [and it] had nothing to do with them.”

The authenticity demonstrated by Murphy and McCaffrey, combined with the sports talk and compelling conversation, yielded an on-air product that appealed to many local listeners. Neither of them ever had personas specific to their show, he felt, and were instead able to showcase their genuine dispositions to the audience and display that when hosting on location. Concurrently speaking, they understood what their audience wanted to hear and delivered on a consistent basis.

“I always felt like people don’t necessarily want or need a lecture at that hour in the morning on sports and on the right play calls and stuff, and so I try to do a lot of comedy,” McCaffrey said. “I’m a huge fan of comedy; I’m a student of comedy. I’ve studied it really for decades since I was a college student watching standup films of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and guys like that. I was always very interested in making people laugh, and I tried to do that on the show.”

The amusing levity of McCaffrey and journalistic credibility of Murphy established a sound that attracted and retained scores of listeners. McCaffrey took a pragmatic approach with the show, recognizing that countering Murphy’s background would ultimately prove beneficial.

“I think a lot of other sports talk guys might not have been cool with that – the guys that want to talk serious spots – but Murph always let me be myself, God bless him,” McCaffrey said, “and by doing that, I think my personality is allowed to come to the surface [and] complement his, and the show really worked that way, but he deserves a lot of credit for allowing those things to happen.”

Although the program experienced levels of success in its early years, the show took off when the San Francisco Giants began to regularly contend for World Series championships. As the flagship home of the Giants, KNBR broadcast the games and covered the team during its dynasty of three championships in six seasons. After the team’s night games, the Murph and Mac show was one of the first local entities to broadcast reaction and analysis the following morning.

“When the Giants started to just blast up into the stratosphere, Murph and I just kind of saddled up, got on the rocket and took the ride with them, and we became synonymous with the Giants during those years because there was such a fever for the Giants and the players were such a part of the community,” McCaffrey said. “It was a really special time. I think that happens sometimes in sports when the right team and the right group of guys can capture the interest of a city, and that’s exactly what happened in those years.”

Several years later, listeners continue to remember the essence of Murph and Mac, many of whom communicated their best wishes and support to McCaffrey following his being laid off. Over the ensuing time following the announcement, he would see his phone flooded with messages of goodwill as he tried to acclimate to his new lifestyle. No longer did McCaffrey need to wake up at 4 a.m. and run out the door to the radio station; however, he did not view it as a burden and enjoyed hosting with Murphy on KNBR.

“I don’t think that I really had a clear understanding in terms of how far the reach of the show could stretch because I heard from hundreds and hundreds of people literally, and they did help,” Murphy said. “They made me realize, ‘Hey man, people dug that show. We did a good job. People enjoyed us in the morning,’ and hearing that every day from so many people during that time, it did lift my spirits.”

There has been turmoil at KNBR of late with declining ratings and public controversy involving Copeland, who stepped down from the program director position last month. As KNBR looks to fill the vacancy, McCaffrey is not interested in returning to the station in that role, deeming the hypothetical scenario to be a “disaster of epic proportions.” Even so, he does not miss the office politics and tension surrounding KNBR, some of which involved prognosticating the future of the show. At the same time, he is disappointed to see the situation surrounding the company and feels the outlet needs to rethink things.

“Right now, there’s nobody at the wheel,” McCaffrey said of KNBR. “They’re going to have to get somebody to get their hands on that wheel and start to steer this thing a little bit because you can’t be directionless out on the open sea, right? You’ve got to chart a course and you’ve got to follow that for better or worse, so to me, if any kind of forward progress is going to be made with that station, I think the most obvious think that they need to do is find the right person to sit in that program director chair and get this thing back on the tracks.”

Over the last several months, McCaffrey has been traveling and cherishing the downtime while evaluating the media landscape and thinking about his future. Since he is no longer tied to the morning program, he has had more time to explore innovations in digital media. In fact, he is beginning to question the traditional radio model itself, specifically the need for four-hour shows five days a week. The entire experience has been illuminating, and while it marks a paradigmatic shift, it is one he is compelled to try and embrace. McCaffrey has a group of investors and is working on launching a new sports-focused show with a destination to be determined and looks forward to the freedom therein.

“Sometimes you may love the guys [at the radio station] – you may love their ideas – and there are other times you’re not going to really see eye to eye on things, so the idea that putting a show together and not being holden to anyone else’s thoughts or visions, that to me is really exciting because that represents creative freedom,” McCaffrey said, “and I am one of those guys who thinks that the more ideas you can bring to the table, the better off the product is going to be.”

McCaffrey believes that creativity can be stunted by those who do not have the prudence or vision to actualize future endeavors. None of that will apply with his new project, which will capitalize on ideas they feel are salient or noteworthy, an enticing proposition to construct the product. McCaffrey hopes to bring the audience he helped develop on KNBR to his new program, and would love to work with Murphy again down the road in the right situation. For now though, he is focused on forging his path ahead and returning to the sports talk landscape.

“I just kind of want to get back into doing shows, get back into a rhythm, start to have some fun again [and] do a show in my own vision,” McCaffrey said, “and if I can just get some people to come along and maybe they can spread the word, I do have confidence that it’ll grow, so just knowing that I have an audience out there, even if it’s a small one at first, would be satisfying to me.”

Derek Futterman
Derek Futtermanhttps://derekfutterman.com/
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on X @derekfutterman.

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