A Conversation With: Shane Riordan

Baseball’s Opening Day this year was a bummer, to say the least. Mostly because, well, there was no baseball. I’m like a lot of us who find great comfort in the game of baseball, and everything else it represents. Changing of the seasons, the weather getting warmer, and the smell of grilled onions on the concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field, are just a few of those comforts I had taken for granted. Well, I mean it’s still been getting warmer outside, and the seasons will change, and I still made bratwurst and grilled onions in my apartment on Opening Day, but nothing is really the same these days, is it?

I mention all of this because a week later, sports postponements, like the MLB season being delayed, just don’t seem nearly as troubling as they did a week ago. That’s not to say I’m not bummed out about it, but so much more has risen to the surface regarding our world’s new (hopefully) temporary reality. Millions of people are losing their jobs, the numbers of COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths are rising, and the deeper you dive into the daily news, the more sadness you’ll find. Even as I write this piece, just today, longtime White Sox radio play-by-play man Ed Farmer passed away. 

All of that said, and I know it’s a lot, the last few weeks have shown me lots of beautiful things, too. I’ve seen more than ever people finding the importance in communicating with one another. I’ve had virtual happy hours and hangouts with friends, including some great conversations that we may not have had otherwise. My birthday was a couple days ago, and my lovely girlfriend even set up a Zoom call with my entire family, which was touching as hell. In the absence of normality, I’ve learned to appreciate what I had always taken for granted. 

We are all human, and I know it sounds cliché, but in these extremely unprecedented, times, we have to be there for each other to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. That means responsibly social distancing for one, but also reaching out to our loved ones, and really anyone who you think might need it. I’ve needed it, and fortunately I’ve had a beautiful group of people to talk to. Please try to take a few minutes out of each day to reach out to those you care about. I promise you it will help us through all of this madness. 

Circling back to where we started, on Opening Day, I had the absolute joy of speaking with Shane Riordan from 670 The Score. It was his birthday, and he took some time out of his day to chat. Shane is truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever spoken to. He’s one of a kind, and to say he works at 670 The Score in the operations department is really only scratching the surface. He’s a masterful chef, specializing in meats, and if you don’t follow him on Instagram, go do that now @shanesmeat. You will not regret it.

A few weeks ago, he even started raising money on Venmo and sending it to people who need some financial help during this crisis, which is just fantastic.

He’s hilarious, and has so many passions outside of the sports world. I had a great time talking to him, and I think you’ll enjoy our chat as well. After you read the edited transcript below, listen to the full conversation included at the top of the page. 

Stay safe, keep in touch with your loved ones, and please enjoy my chat with the tremendous Shane Riordan. 

Sam Sherman: What have you been up to since the start of the quarantine?

Shane Riordan: I’ve been trying to not watch The Circle on Netflix for the longest time, because I watched one episode, and it was insufferable, and cringy, and everything just seemed so planned, but when my roommates go to bed at night, I turn it on in the living room. I got outed the other day. I put a video of my dog on my Instagram story, and you can hear it in the background, and I got called out from everybody for talking shit about the show, and then watching it when they go to sleep.

I’ve also been reading a little bit. I was always a big reader in high school, just novels and stuff. I don’t really read sports books and I’m not a big sports guy outside of work and baseball, but I’ve been reading some novels. I’ve been into a collection of essays by David Sedaris called Calypso.

Doesn’t The Circle have a Brazilian spin-off, too?

I don’t know about Brazil, but I think it started in the U.K., and then they just brought Americans to the same place they were shooting it. The funny thing is when they zoom out and do wide and geographical shots, they’re showing Chicago, but it’s in a building in the U.K. The other night they were showing a cityscape and it was Pittsburgh; you’re not pulling a fast one on anybody, we know where it’s at.

It’s like on those Chicago PD or Chicago Fire shows where they’ll drive from one side of the city to another in like five minutes when it would really take a half-hour.

Yeah, exactly, the hospital is supposed to be on the far west side, but they’re having lunch in the Signature Room.

Speaking of reality TV, I forgot, are you a Bachelor fan?

I had a podcast with a guy who was on a season of either Bachelor in Paradise, or the Bachelorette, I can’t remember. I watched a couple seasons, but I like Bachelor in Paradise.

OK, so I had never really given it a shot, but I got into in with the last season of Bachelor in Paradise, and I ended up watching this last season of The Bachelor with my girlfriend and roommate, and it seemed like, from what I had heard from longtime Bachelor fans, that this was a terrible season.

Oh, it was horrible.

Yeah,, I mean for the first few episodes it was fun, but by the last couple, it just became dreadful. I enjoyed some of the drama and whatnot, but I feel like that had to have been bad even for longtime fans.

Yeah, I think I watched the first four or five episodes, and then I just had to stop. Victoria is smoking hot, I liked her, and I definitely follow her on Instagram still. Usually with The Bachelor, the first few episodes are great with the introductions and then the final with the tell-all. It’s cool drama to follow, but it’s just so mind-numbing. I have other mindless television shows that I prefer to watch over that, It’s just so goddamn long. They were doing like two episodes a week at two hours each. Who has time for that? I mean, now I guess we all do.

I’m a former Score marketing intern, so I was handing out the flyers, walking in the parades, doing all of that. What was your path to ultimately working in operations at The Score?

It takes a little while to get to me working at The Score. I started college at Holy Cross in South Bend, Ind. I thought I was going to be the next Rudy, I didn’t have the grades to get into Notre Dame out of high school, but I thought I’d be that. Then I realized that South Bend sucks, and nobody should be in South Bend for any extended period of time.

I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago after three semesters in South Bend, got into the radio program, and tried to find an internship on my own. I emailed Mitch Rosen (Operations Director, The Score) without going through Columbia’s internship coordinators or anything like that. Mitch interviewed me, and gave me an internship, and I went back to Columbia and said, “Hey I’ve got this internship” and they just flat-out turned it down. They said we have requirements for you to start an internship, you’ve got to have X amount of credits and X amount of classes. Fuck that, that’s part of the problem with our current upper education system, the fact that a radio station deems somebody ready, but then because of educational requirements … whatever, that’s just rehashing stuff for me. So, I go back to Mitch and say, never mind you’ve got to start interviewing more people, Columbia’s not letting me do it.

I went back to Columbia and ended up starting an internship at Total Traffic Network, reporting at Cubs and White Sox games. I’m still 20 years old and I’m in these clubhouses getting audio and streaming it to stations in southern Illinois and Indiana that still cover the teams but can’t afford to send a reporter. I worked one season as an intern, and then I worked for them for a full year.

From there, you have to start supplementing your income a little bit like everybody does in the early stages of this industry. I worked a job at Starbucks, I worked at Best Buy, I worked as a bar bouncer just to support what I wanted my career to be. You have to pay those dues, but the problem is, you have to tell those retail jobs you have to call off sometimes like a day or two before because the job that I want to be my career needs me for something, and that’s priority. At first, they say that’s OK, but after it happens so many times, they tell you you’re kind of out of here now, aren’t you? I was working at Best Buy, and Kristin Decker who was an executive producer at WGN Radio came in because she needed to get her computer fixed or something like that. I recognized her voice because I was a P1 for WGN, and I said I’m in radio at Columbia, what are the chances you guys are hiring over there? She said not really, but she could bring me in and get me an interview with somebody.

I went and I interviewed with Kristin, Stephanie Menendez and Todd Manley, and they gave me a gig working for The Game when that had launched, and then about a month later, The Game went away. But then I said, well, I don’t want to leave, I want to stay at WGN. I interviewed for other jobs there, and ended up getting a Blackhawks producer job, and from there I got moved up to executive producer of the Dean Richards Show and then the Amy Guth Show on the weekends. Even though I was getting kind of tired of working weekends and Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, I did that for a year-and-a-half.

Then I got a call from Mitch Rosen one day and he said we’re hiring part-timers, do you want to come over here? I did that two years, executive producing Cubs and Bulls games, basically just doing every single thing I can to become irreplaceable for Mitch Rosen and Brendan McCaffrey (former Score sports director). When Brendan left for Sirius XM NFL in New York, I stepped up into his job. It was formerly called sports director, and now it’s just called operations, just a broader term.

I love stories like that, especially hearing from people in the sports media world, and the paths they had to take. It’s easy to look at lots of those jobs and say how great they look, but not everyone realizes the path it takes to get there. What is your day-to-day look like working in operations?

I’m basically there to support the on-air staff, and support Mitch, and anything the air staff needs. It’s a lot of scheduling, and mini-projects like with the Cubs Radio Network, trying to plan out content and events. I work in marketing and promotions, while still editing lots of audio, and booking guests for the shows. I’m there to support all of the shows, producers, staff and talent.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, pretty much all sports have been postponed. What is sports radio, or specifically The Score, when you take away sports?

The Score has always been personality-driven radio. We’ve always had talent here, and all you’ve got to do is turn on the microphone and let them go. That’s what we have now, top to bottom. From Les Grobstein at midnight on the overnight, to Mully and Haugh, to Dan and Connor, to Laurence, to Mac and Parkins to Joe Ostrowski to Spiegel, to Julie to Maggie, to all these people make up a dynamic on-air team. [This interview took place before the layoffs that eliminated postions like Connor McKnight’s and Julie DiCaro’s.

These are people who are willing to pull their weight, and others’ weight when they can’t handle it. It’s been very challenging to plan out this content. We still have to worry about the demographic. It’s a sports demographic, and how far over the non-sports line can you go and still retain a listener? Just like in the Great Depression when people went to go see movies as an escape, we’re an escape. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, people just want to know in this age of fluctuation and worry that we’re a constant for them. They can still turn on the radio and get exactly what they would have if they weren’t in quarantine.

You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of hobbies outside of sports, probably most notably, Shane’s Meat. What is the story behind Shane’s Meat?

I was cooking a lot of meat, and Julia Lepidi (who hosts the night show at B96) came into my office one day and was like, why isn’t your Instagram handle just Shane’s Meat? I said I don’t know why it’s not, but we should probably change that right now. Everybody’s got to have a brand, right?

I find myself pretty insufferable most of the time, a lot of people attest to that and say the same thing, but if you’re not known for something in this age of social media, and you don’t have some kind of association to your name, then you’re invisible and you’re nothing. I’ve got to prepare myself for new media, and this ever-changing industry. I’m not always going to be working in the operations department at The Score. There’s a next step, another move for me, I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know when that is, but you just have to always be ready for something. If I find something I’m passionate about, it’s like the old saying, if you love your job you never work a day in your life, and that’s where I’m at right now.

If I can couple sports media with cooking content and music, it makes waking up every day fun. Also, there’s a crossover with our demographic. Our demo is men, ages 25-54. Men 25-54 love grilling, learning new things, barbecuing, listening to music and making dinner when they’re done working so they don’t have to think about work anymore. It’s the same thing for me. I monitor sports news on social media, but when I get home, I put my stuff down, turn on some music and make dinner, and that’s how I unwind. It’s stupid not to try and monetize that and turn it into content for other people to enjoy.

Well, you’re definitely good at it and the brand is strong.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

I love seeing people on Twitter sending you photos of different foods that they’ve cooked, as if to get your approval or feedback. It’s been fun to see your following grow more and more over time.

Thank you. It’s hard not to blow those people up, by the way. I get so many tweets that I don’t respond to because it’s just trash, they do such a bad job, but you don’t want to ruin somebody’s spirit.

My girlfriend and I will scroll through Instagram and see people post pictures of the food they’ve made, and while it’s fine for people like you to post their food, there’s so many people who post pictures of bacon and eggs that don’t even look very good, and we wonder what the point of even posting that is.

Exactly, as you’re saying that I’m thinking of like four people in my head that do the same thing daily. Why are you posting your trash-ass food?

I also want to talk about your presentation. It’s one thing for food to taste good, but the way you make it look is beautiful as well. When did you start taking that part seriously?

That’s something that I’ve always not really been that good at until I started learning about color contrast and garnishes, and how to light something. I’m looking at my Instagram feed now as we’re talking, and there’s just a bad white plate with a pile of steak on it, not arranged in any certain way. Then I started throwing some asparagus on there, and it contrasted with the brown and the green and maybe there’s a little sauce on the side. Then it’s photographed from above instead of an angle, and there’s focus and a drizzle of hot sauce or something like that. Anybody can cook decent food and put in on a plate, but if you can make it look like something you’d want, even if it doesn’t taste good, that’s the goal. The presentation is what makes a difference and might draw an eye where the eye doesn’t always go.

I feel like I’ve always either just prepared or eaten dinner right when I see your food posts, and I’m like, shit I’d rather eat that.

Yeah, I know what you mean.

You were invited to the Score House this year. (670 The Score hosts and producers rented a house in Arizona for a week during spring training) While I know there has to be stories you can’t share; did anything happen this year that you can tell us that we may not have seen on social media?

We were pretty open about the things that can be shared. I don’t think people understand that we legitimately had a very good time with each other. This is 12 grown men in one house for six days. Nobody got tired of anyone there, and Bernstein was drunk every night, and we still weren’t tired of him, and he’ll be the first to admit that he was. It may not come off on the air all the time, but we all get along very well, and that’s rare. You put sports media, or media people in general together, and everyone’s trying to one-up the next guy, and that doesn’t happen at The Score, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. We all got along so well, and it’s a trip I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. It was a great learning experience and we all got along, and I hope that came across to the listener.

All right now, a few White Sox-specific questions. What’s the best thing about White Sox fans?

The dedication of White Sox fans lately has really restored my faith in this fan base. It’s a resilient fan base, it’s a fan base right now that doesn’t give a flying fuck about what the national baseball audience thinks of us. This is a team that’s going to surprise a hell of a lot of people, and I’m glad to be a fan from day one and not a bandwagoner. What I have noticed is this fan base is welcoming of bandwagoners: Bring on anyone who wants to support this team, if we ever get to play again, bring them in and support this fun, young baseball team. I think about the resilience and the restored faith, even after having eaten shit as a fan for the last 12 to 13 years. Even though it might be smaller than others, it packs a punch.

How about the worst thing about Sox fans?

Stop caring about the Cubs. It’s annoying. I don’t care about the Cubs, I don’t care what my Cub fan friends think about the White Sox. I’m worried about the Twins, Indians, Royals and Tigers. I don’t care about the Cubs, and I don’t care about their stupid fans.

I agree, and hopefully when baseball returns, the White Sox will have a better product on the field for fans to support.  

Yeah, that’s what happens. When you’re a fan of a good baseball team, you can stop caring about the Cubs.

Although Cub fans still seem to care a lot about low attendance at Sox games …

Oh, of course they do.

OK, so you’re a country music fan. It took me a long time to get into country, but like any other genre of music, there’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff. Have you always been a country fan, or was it an acquired taste?

Yeah, day one. My first concert was Garth Brooks’ 1992 tour. I wasn’t a year old and my parents took me to see him. I’ve always been an outlaw, old-school country fan. One of my better friends is the marketing and promotions director for US99, so we go to all the shows that the station puts on. I can tolerate Top 40 country, like the Florida Georgia Line country, but I don’t really like it because the country I associate myself with is storytelling country music. Like Jason Isbell songs, every one of those three or four-minute songs can be turned into a movie. That’s what I love about Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, and guys like Cody Jinks and Chris Stapleton. These are stories and they put real effort into writing them, not just singing about jumping up and down on a pickup truck bed by the lake with a beer in your hand. I understand there’s a market for that, obviously it’s huge and those are the songs of the summer everywhere you go, but it’s just not my market. You can get behind it when you’re drunk, and everyone is signing along to a Luke Bryan song or a Florida Georgia Line song when you’re tanked, but I like the storytelling of my brand of country music.

What’s one album that you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but you think I should check out?

There’s a band called Houndmouth, and the record is Little Neon Limelight from 2015. That’s like the combo between folk and kind of country, but also XRT-ish, Mt. Joy-ish music, but still kind of twangy. They’re huge in Austin. I think they’re all from Austin, so kind of fits in that hipster music. I would check that out.


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