The Joe McDonnell Experience: How his sports-talk angst came from the giant-sized heart to make things happen

In the mid '90s, ESPN LA radio issued a Joe McDonnell bobblehead. Photo by Jeff Lasky.

In the mid ’90s, ESPN LA radio issued a Joe McDonnell bobblehead (with partner Doug Krikorian on the other side). Photo by Jeff Lasky.

It was many years ago, as we were talking while scraping together a pre-game dinner in the media room at Staples Center. Or maybe we were jammed into a lunch booth at Trani’s restaurant in Long Beach. It could have been while we waited for the valet to find his car at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants in the Valley right around closing time.

“When I die,” Joe McDonnell once told me, “I want to be cremated and then have a plane spread half of my ashes over Dodger Stadium and the other half over the Forum.”

I actually thanked him for that important information. Knowing how many boxes of ashes McDonnell would have created at that moment in time, based on my rough estimation of his bigger-than-life size, I figured that result would be in a huge, dark cloud blocking out the sun and lingering over the entire city on whenever that awful day happened.

And now, it’s here.

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Joe McDonnell: 1956-2015

Joe-McDonnellJoe McDonnell, unapologetic in the way he created his  larger-than-life persona in the Los Angeles sports media for the greater part of the last four decades, died Friday afternoon at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 58.

McDonnell may have worked at more than a dozen local radio stations in Southern California during his career –  most importantly as one of the first hosts in 1991 at the inaugural all-sports station in L.A. when KMPC-AM (710) began the format — but loyal followers always knew where to find him during his career that included a return to 710 in 2000 when KSPN launched, also working as an assistant program director.

The longtime San Fernando Valley resident who started at the local KGIL-AM (1260) doing sports updates for the Dick Whittington show, McDonnell hustled to become a correspondent for Mutual Radio Sports as well as AP Radio and UPI Radio. He got involved in sports talk when Chris Roberts, the longtime UCLA broadcaster who is retiring this year, hired him to produce and report for his show on KFI-AM (640), eventually becoming a replacement host in the late ‘80s.

His career also took him to hirings, suspensions and dismissals from XTRA-AM (690), KMAX-FM (107.1), KWNK-AM (670), KTLK-AM (1150), KABC-AM (790) and KXTA-AM (1150). He also recently wrote for and did podcasts for During his career, he was most proud of breaking the story of Magic Johnson’s return in 1994 to coach the Lakers, as well as Wayne Gretzky’s trade to the Kings in 1988.

“When I was at KFI, shortly after I arrived in L.A. to stay in 1988, Joe had the scoop that Wayne Gretzky was coming two days before it was announced and as a result, I got two killer seats on the ice at the Forum before the onslaught of new season ticketholders — Joe made that possible,” said Tom Leykis, the legendary syndicated radio show host. “He literally knew everyone in L.A. sports. People trusted him. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

Joe20and20DougAffectionately known as “Big Joe” but dubbed “The Big Nasty” by longtime broadcast partner and former Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian, McDonnell was asked in a 2004 Daily News story if he considered himself to be irascible, irrepressible or irrational, or whether he was simply bullheaded and played the part of a radio bully.

“I’m all of it,” he said “At one time or another, I’m all those things.”

McDonnell told that he wanted to be a newspaper reporter and columnist and never thought of getting into radio because “I had one of the world’s truly bad voices – nasal and scratchy.”

But after his first day as an intern at KGIL – the day Los Angeles police tracked down and arrested heiress Patrica Hearst – McDonnell arrived at 5 a.m. stayed long after 10 p.m. answering phones, cutting wire copy and falling in love with the radio world process.

Lon Rosen, the Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer, worked as McDonnell’s agent at points in his career.

“Joe was all about sports and loved the Dodgers,” he said in a statement. “He was a fixture at Dodger Stadium and will be terribly missed by players, management and fans.”

gallery_1_4_28203851_zps0ffac01fIn a move that is somewhat extraordinary for someone who was not a staff employee, the Lakers sent out a statement that included reaction from team president Jeanie Buss: “For more than 35 years, Joe has been a regular at Lakers games and press events. Known for his quick wit and strong opinions, Joe’s love of and support of the Lakers has always been appreciated. Over all these years, our players, coaches and staff have enjoyed working with and knowing Joe. He will be sorely missed.”

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak added: “Although Joe was opinionated and brutally honest with his coverage, I always felt he was knowledgeable and fair. He … had a presence at every major sporting event. As both a player and executive I enjoyed working with Joe since I arrived in town in 1981. I will miss seeing him at our games, practices and press conferences.”

Mike Thompson, the current program director at 710-AM, once had to dismiss McDonnell from a job, but Friday he called him “an icon here in Southern California radio. This is very sad. Joe and Doug’s show was the show of record in the first sports incarnation on this frequency.  Although I at one time contributed to his troubles — we made amends — I could relate to Joe on many levels.  Forgotten was that Joe was not just confined to the sports pages – I thought some of his best moments were when he was doing talk on KFI.”

i-69576887b492b3dd2843a8ef246c8f48-0724klacThe cause of death was not officially given, although McDonnell’s wife, Elizabeth, said he had been hospitalized in the intensive care unit for the last two weeks.

mcdonnelljoeelizabethMcDonnell’s health had been an issue for years, some of it a direct result of his battle with obesity that began as a teenager at Alemany High in Mission Hills. McDonnell was born Aug. 30, 1956, in Upper Darby, Pa and also attended L.A. Valley College.

In 2004, McDonnell underwent gastric bypass surgery that eventually led to him losing about 400 pounds from his frame that at one time carried in excess of 700 pounds. He also had been in an out of hospitals in recent years to treat flesh-eating bacteria.

Funeral services are pending.

Our extended media column on McDonnell’s passing will be in Sunday’s editions of the LA News Group

== Please view or sign a memorial guest book
== Listen to Joe McDonnell during a 2013 podcast
== More Twitter reaction at
== A remembrance from former Daily News columnist Steve Dilbeck

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Media column notes 03.13.15: Hate is a pretty strong word … but maybe more accurate than ‘I Rather Loathe Christian Laettner’

I kinda hate getting sucked into the publicity generated toward the latest ESPN documentary, “I Hate Christian Laettner.”
laettnerThere’s no question that the former Duke star may, 20-plus years after he’s left the building, still elicit a hate-hate relationship in the college basketball world for those who need something to get worked up about. And he was all over ESPN’s talking-head shows this week promoting it — the fact that ESPN is airing it on Sunday at 6 p.m. after all the initial NCAA Tournament bracket shows are over.
Then I watched the piece.  Then I read this NPR take on the doc. Then I saw a New York Times piece that wondered why he isn’t in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
laettnerstickerThen I understood. Semantics, be damned. Better “hate” than never?
That’s a great launching point into a discussion of why fans are so passionate about sports.
Hate to tell you, but I’m writing about more of the aspects of the piece for Sunday’s weekly media column. A link to it is here.
Maybe I’ll hate myself for doing it later, but I’d hate to miss an opportunity to examine why haters hate, and others don’t.
And, come to think of it, I hate it when people don’t remember this one shining moment from the 1992 NCAA Tournament:


What else is worth noting in the meantime:

org-slides-foxannouncement-1-27-15-v11-790x500== The Torrance-based American Youth Soccer Organization has more than 50,000 teams and 500,000 players participating, according to its website.
The same website this week put up an announcement on its home page — a link to a video where Alexi Lalas is help selling the fact that Fox Sports 1 will affix its logo onto kids’ jerseys for the next five years, starting this spring, making them a walking, running and sometimes lollygagging advertisements for its upcoming coverage of a variety of world-wide events, including this summer’s Women’s World Cup and the next three men’s World Cups.
The kids don’t have a say in whether they approve the TV logo on their right chest or not. Their parents have done this for them.
“Jersey sponsors are part of the global soccer sphere from the UEFA Champions League to Major League Soccer,” said Lynn Berling-Manuel, AYSO Chief Marketing Officer, in a statement. “Now the same way viewers can see sponsored jerseys when they watch the biggest teams in the world play on Fox Sports 1, we are excited about this sponsorship with Fox Sports 1 bringing an unparalleled level of sports and soccer credibility to AYSO and its nearly 900 community soccer programs.”
No, it’s not the same way. Not by a long cornerkick shot.
It reminds me of a time years ago when my daughter was playing AYSO, in Torrance, and I was in charge of bringing the game balls. The league told me we’d be using a new ball this year, just in the games — a bright orange one, not the traditional black-and-white. And it had a giant “76″ oil company logo on it.
This isn’t going to happen, I told them.
So some teams did as they were instructed, and their kids were knocking around what looked like a large 76 antenna ball logo around the field.
I don’t care how much the company may have sponsored the AYSO, I’d pay to not have that rolling advertisement used in a kids’ game.
Someone had to interject some ethics to this process.
To see kids now about to wear a Fox Sports 1 logo on their shirts … maybe the next thing is also have every kid wear “DirecTV” on the back across their shoulders, right above the number 219, so they also remember this is the new home of “Garbage Time with Katie Nolan,” debuting Sunday at 6:30 p.m., right after the Galaxy game in Portland.
How cute.

== The L.A. Marathon announcement this week that it has pushed the start of the men’s elite and general group launch from 7:25 a.m. to 6:55 should not affect KTLA-Channel 5′s coverage, since its “Countdown” show is already scheduled from 6-to-7 a.m. The women’s elite will go off at 6:45 a.m. The wheelchair division starts at 6:30 a.m.
Universal Sports Network has same-day delayed coverage on Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.

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Play It Forward March 9-15 on your sports calendar — Can Kentucky define perfection? Maybe the NCAA Tournament bracket announcement will determine that

Kentuck's Willie Cauley-Stein, third from left, address the crowd during a ceremony marking the teams undefeated season after a win over Florida on Saturday.  (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentuck’s Willie Cauley-Stein, third from left, address the crowd during a ceremony marking the teams undefeated season after a win over Florida on Saturday. (AP Photo/James Crisp)


Details/TV: Sunday at 3 p.m., Channel 2:

Ashley Judd cheers for Kentucky during Saturday's win over Florida in the SEC regular-season finale. The SEC Tournament begins this week. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Ashley Judd cheers for Kentucky during Saturday’s win over Florida in the SEC regular-season finale. The SEC Tournament begins this week. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

This could be the start of something perfect, even if perfection is a matter of interpretation. If the current 31-0 Kentucky squad goes wire-to-wire in this year’s 68 team win-or-done event, it would be the first to do it in nearly 40 years – since the ’76 Indiana squad. Look at the odds: In the 75-year history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, 18 teams finished the regular season undefeated heading into this thing, and just seven went on to win it all – including four UCLA teams (1964, ’67, ’72 and ’73). A year ago, Wichita State had the shock factor, coming in 34-0. But then the Shockers lost in the Round of 32 – the quickest exit of all those previous 18 unbeatens. And the team that the Shockers lost to … don’t even wait for it. It was Kentucky, a No. 8 seed in the Midwest, at-large from the SEC, and not even in the Top 25. From there, the Wildcats parlayed that 78-76 victory into a five-point win in the Sweet 16 against Louisville, a three-point win in the Elite Eight over Michigan, and, in the national semifinals, a one-point win over West Regional winner Wisconsin. Kentucky was a three-point favorite in the national title game against UConn, but it didn’t materialize in a 60-54 loss. How is this John Calipari team different from last year’s? Like the 2014 version, it was a pre-season No. 1 ranked program, but it kept that designation all season this time. Sophomore twins guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison have another year of experience. Junior 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein was a bench player last year but a key starter now. The deepest bench in the country fills out a roster with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Even though this group dismantled UCLA in Chicago just days before Christmas, it has had some near misses — back-to-back OT wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M in early January. Even if it they get tripped in the SEC Tournament, a No. 1 seed is pretty much locked up. But no matter how the Wildcats enter the fray, we know Calipari has a 2012 title and three Final Four appearances in his six seasons at Kentucky. They’ll be there at the pay window. Whether or not UCLA or Big West post-season contender Long Beach State joins in remains to be determined.

Key games to watch going into the announcement:
= Pac-12 Tournament final: At MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Saturday at 8 p.m., ESPN.
No. 12 seed USC begins play Wednesday (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) against Arizona State, with the winner taking on fourth-seed UCLA in the quarterfinals (Thursday, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)

= Big West Tournament final: At Honda Center: Saturday at 8:30 p.m., ESPN.
Eighth-seed Cal State Northridge starts Thursday (noon, Prime Ticket) against top-seed UC Davis, followed by fourth-seed Long Beach State (2:30 p.m., Prime Ticket) against fifth seed Hawaii.

= West Coast Conference Tournament final: At Orleans Hotel Arena in Las Vegas: Tuesday at 6 p.m., ESPN.
Pepperdine faces top-seed Gonzaga in the semifinals (Monday, 6 p.m., ESPN), with the winner taking on either BYU or Portland for the title.

= Big Ten Tournament final: Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Channel 2
= SEC Tournament final: Sunday at 10 a.m., ESPN
= ACC Tournament final: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., ESPN

Also, the ESPN “Bracketology” show is Sunday at 4 p.m. after the brackets are determined.


The 30th L.A. Marathon (Sunday, 7 a.m., Channel 5), from Dodger Stadium-to-Santa Monica pier, includes this noble effort from an LAPD officer running in full uniform … The start of the BNP Paribas Tournament at Indian Wells finds Serena Williams back in as a wildcard entry. She explains ... The Clippers meeting against Houston (Staples Center, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Channel 7) ends a rugged week that includes stops in Oklahoma City and Dallas … The Kings may be getting Nashville at the best time (Staples Center, Saturday at 7 p.m., FSW), considering the Predators start the week on a six-game losing streak … Look who’s in town to face the Lakers: Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks (Staples Center, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet). … More of the week ahead at this link.

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Final media column version 03.08.15: How Travis Rodgers answered the wake-up call for the pre-Starbucks shift at ESPN L.A., and how it fits into the station’s new strategy

By the time 4:30 in the morning staggers in, LA Live is more like LA Listless.
Travis Rodgers now has visual confirmation.

Travis Rodgers started last week as the co-host of the 5-9 a.m. sports talk show for KSPN-AM (710) at the LA Live studios near Staples Center. (Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

Travis Rodgers started last week as the co-host of the 5-9 a.m. sports talk show for KSPN-AM (710) at the LA Live studios near Staples Center. (Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

“There’s not a soul around,” the new KSPN-AM (710) early morning weekday drive co-host admitted about the neon-lit area across the street from Staples Center. “Maybe some guys cleaning, buffing, scooping …
“I did see someone in the Starbucks, and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can hit that on the way up the elevator.’ Nope. It’s not open until 5.”
Which is the time when Rodgers and partner Kelvin Washington have agreed to be seated in the ESPN Radio studios in the office space right next door and must begin their zombie-like shift.
The intent is simple: Connect on a more local, intimate basis with whomever is out on the Southern California freeways heading to their jobs, or perhaps dragging themselves home from their previous endeavors. The success of this kind of venture may not be measured to be a success or failure for another 16 to 18 months, according to station program director Mike Thompson. That’s the nature of this beast.
Other stations have tried it, and currently do. Add Rodgers and Washington to this group who agree to take on for the team – in exchange, of course, for some financial compensation. Enough to purchase stock in a local coffee company, perhaps.

Go to this link to read more about how Rodgers, the former longtime producer for Jim Rome’s syndicated show, has adjusted to career change, as well as his time shift, and why KSPN feels now’s the time to try it.


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