Monday, November 26, 2007

John Ireland: The BrooWaha Interview

Los Angeles Laker's Broadcaster John Ireland has a conversation with writer Bill Friday.

Bill Friday: So John, let's start with a Lightning Round... Karl Dorrell or Bob Toledo?

John Ireland: Toledo. He made the games fun to watch, even the losses.

Friday: "Family Guy" or "The Simpsons".

Ireland: Simpsons, but it's close.

Friday: Jackie Johnson or Vera Jimenez?

Ireland: They're both stunningly attractive, and really cool. It's like asking Catherine Zeta-Jones or Reese Witherspoon...can you go wrong either way? Since I hate when people duck questions, I'll say Vera. I'm married to a brunette and I'll get in less trouble.

Friday: How many jobs have you had in broadcasting?

Ireland: Six radio and four TV, for a total of ten. After leaving UCLA in '85, I started in Monroe, Louisiana; then Beaumont, TX; then San Diego; and now LA.

Friday: How many times have you been fired?

Ireland: Never in TV, twice now in radio, but it's interesting how they spin it. In each radio instance, they announced that "my contract expired, and they chose not to renew it." I always think that's just a fancy way of firing somebody. I guess it depends on how you look at things. To me, the Yankees fired Joe Torre, but they made a big deal out of saying they just chose "not to renew him." I know some people buy that stuff, but I've never been one.

Friday: Earlier this month, you and ESPN Radio "parted company". Do you ever get used to that part of the job?

Ireland: When you've been in this business as long as I have (23 years now), you know going in that these jobs don't last. Either you'll leave for a better gig, or they'll roll the dice with somebody else. I feel lucky that I've always been able to juggle multiple jobs at once, so if one goes away, I have something else to fall back on. So to answer your question, I'm not only used to it, I'm at the point now where I prepare for it in advance.

Friday: Have you talked with Michonski (am I spelling that right?) since it happened?

Ireland: I think it's more like Machonski, but I'm not even sure how to spell it - that's (former radio partner Steve) Mason's real name. We have talked, but not a lot. The station broke us up, we didn't do it to each other, so that's a weird dynamic. The fact is that they gave up on the show when they pulled us out of afternoon drive.

Friday: Are you having "radio withdrawls" yet?

Ireland: No....but I haven't had time to. I've had two different Lakers' road trips since the station blew us up. I was in San Antonio and Houston last week, and have games in Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Boston this week. As I write this, the Lakers are 7-3, so I get a lot of calls to go on radio shows to talk about that. Plus, my TV job is more work than ever before. I not only work on the news, the pre and post game shows and the Lakers' games...but they have me doing stuff for the website every day. My guess is that after the basketball season, I might.

Friday: What's the best interview - radio or TV - that you've ever done?

Ireland: Right before he died, former LA Times legend Jim Murray came in studio with us to talk about his life. For a guy like me who grew up reading him, it was really cool. He was just one of those guys who had the history of this city all in his head. He stayed with us for an hour, and we replayed it three times that year. That's the one that stands out.

Friday: What's the worst (remember, this one's "print", so it doesn't count)?

Ireland: The two worst interviewees we ever had were former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, and Bill Belichick, when he was the coach of the Browns. Both guys just had no charisma at all....none. We made fun of those guys for years afterwards. I always wondered why they even agreed to come on.

Friday: You cover the Lakers for KCAL 9. Were you present when Phil made his "controversial" comments after the loss to the Spurs?

Ireland: I'm the one who asked him about that. I said something like, "why are you guys leaving so many shooters wide open at the three-point line? Is that because you allow too much penetration?" And then he dropped the Brokeback Mountain reference. I thought it was funny, and I thought the apology afterwards was even funnier than that. I wrote about it on my blog,, and heard from all sorts of viewers. Even the gay viewers thought it was funny. I got hundreds of e-mails about it, and only two people seemed offended. I have a lot of gay friends, and most told me that they have a lot of bigger things to worry about than a joke about a movie. Having said that, we live in a politically-correct society. Phil was right to apologize, because if he didn't, somebody would have made a huge deal out of this. It's just the world we live in. But remember, Phil Jackson was once a hippie in New York. He's really into Zen. He's probably more tolerant of different lifestyles than to paint him as insensitive is a joke.

Friday: In the video, the gathered media's response to the comment, in the moment, seemed to be one of amusement (laughter). Given their reaction, do you think it was typical of humor around the league, or just of "jock humor" in general?

Ireland: That's part of what I was saying. I hear these kind of jokes in every locker room I'm in. To the sports media in general, this wasn't anything we've never heard before. That's why I tend to lean on my gay friends for perspective on things like this. When they tell me that this is nothing, I tend to shape my opinions around that.

Friday: Given the NBA's almost "non-reaction" to what Phil said, what do you think the Commissioner's Office saw in it?

Ireland: I know that the the public reaction was ESPN driven. The network called the Lakers and told the team that they were going to cover the story, with reaction from gay activists. Once the network played that card, the league had to react the way they did. Any PR executive knows that they had to denounce the comments, it was the only smart play.

Friday: One particular L.A. sports station makes a very big deal over its programing being "So L.A., it's in the name." Yet it's two biggest shows (Dan Patrick and Jim Rome) are, or are in the process of being, syndicated nationally - essentially ignoring L.A. sports. That being said, as far as "local sports talk" in L.A. is concerned, does L.A. really even care?

Ireland: KLAC (which is the station you're referring to) is competing with ESPN, so that's the smart way to market this. Remember, Rome does his show from LA...and their overnight programming comes from Fox Sports Radio in the valley, so the only non-local programming the station has is Patrick. ESPN carries several hours a day (including 10 straight hours) from Bristol, so that's a position that KLAC can attack. In my opinion, sports radio will always have a niche, as long as the shows are good. LA cares, and if the stations provide good sports talk, it will show in the ratings.

Friday: Since this interview will run in San Francisco as well as L.A., so I have to ask... The question of Barry Bonds indictment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Given the current climate in baseball, in five years, will it still be important to anyone?

Ireland: This is just the tip of the iceberg. When the Mitchell Report comes out, this story will be much bigger than Barry Bonds. Hopefully, in five years, they'll have a testing program like the Olympics, and the story will die. Until then, Bonds gets all of the attention.

Friday: Speaking of five years, in five years, which has the greatest impact on L.A. Frank McCourt's Dodgers or Arte Moreno's Angels?

Ireland: Moreno. The Dodgers have a rich history and even if they don't do anything over the next five years, they can still live off of their history. The Angels are just starting their history under Moreno, and seem willing to do whatever it takes to make a splash. By the way, this isn't a bad thing. The Dodgers own the region now, but if the Angels start winning titles and grow their following, it will be really fun to watch, and to cover.

Friday: How about you? Where are you in five years?

Ireland: That's hard to say. Five years ago, in 2002, I was working at KCAL, traveling with the Lakers, hosting two weekend shows on the Fox Sports Radio network, and working as the host and sideline reporter for UCLA football at what was then, 1150. Five years later, CBS has merged with KCAL, I left Fox for ESPN radio, and now I'm leaving ESPN. 1150 has become 570. Everything changes, almost yearly. I'll have opportunities, and I just need to make sure that I make the right choices and go with the right people.

Friday: Your job at KCAL has you away from home as much as the team you cover. How difficult is life on the road with the Lakers?

Ireland: The travel can be tiring, but truth be told, life on the road couldn't be better. We fly on private planes, into private airports. We stay in great hotels. I've always felt like I'm being paid to see the country, with a first-class seat. Put all of that together with the fact that I'm covering the team that I grew up rooting for, and I would have trouble using the word difficult, in any context. Anybody who complains about a set-up like that is an idiot.

Friday: John Ireland, thank you for making time to talk with me for BrooWaha.

Ireland: Thanks for having me.

John Ireland can be seen on the sidelines for Lakers games broadcast on KCAL 9, as well as anchoring the sports desk for KCAL and KCBS 2. To decide for yourself regarding the Jackie Johnson vs. Vera Jimenez question, go to (Vera), and (Jackie).

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday