Talking (and listening) for a Living: My Visit with Paul Finebaum

ZZ Top and Aerosmith boomed every morning in my dad’s pickup, but once 2 o’clock rolled around, a droning voice coupled with Southern screams took over the radio waves. As a 6-year-old the endless talking about Alabama and Auburn football on The Paul Finebaum Radio Network tortured me.

I grew to hate Paul Finebaum’s show as his voice continued to dominate road trips and afternoon drives. But, things would change.

When I began studying journalism, I started to understand Finebaum’s impact as a journalist, personality and authority. Love him or hate him, he truly is the voice of the Southeastern Conference. Seeing him in Nick Saban: Gamechangershowcased that he was more than someone who took calls; he was someone who could answer questions.

Though most listeners constantly speculate Finebaum’s bias, I appreciated his honesty in JN 491′s meeting with him last week.

“People say I’m a Saban Worshiper, and I am.” He admires Saban’s way of thinking and coaching, finding him disciplined and obviously effective. With three national championships in SEC football, he appears almost inhuman.

I think Finebaum admires Saban because they are similar. While Finebaum is the voice of the SEC, Saban is the coach of the SEC. Few people feel apathetically to these men. Instead, they pull people’s adoring praise and merciless hate. They represent the insanity that is SEC football.

From the redecorating of Nick Saban’s statue (above) by LSU fans passing through Tuscaloosa to a ‘Bama fan’s touch on I-10 near Slidel, La., (below) things do get pretty crazy here, and Finebaum is in the middle of it.

The hysteria that follows Finebaum is not what makes him successful, though. It is his ability to communicate people. He calls his show “listener-driven.” Some colleagues criticize the nature of his show.

“They’ll ask me why I want to talk to people like that,” he said. But, Finebaum wouldn’t have it any other way. He doesn’t want to work for a larger company, such as ESPN Radio, because they don’t take calls. Instead, their schedule is filled with analysts, and the average listener’s opinion isn’t shared.

Some may only see him as a personality, but Finebaum is one of the greatest sports reporters of our time. He proves that reporting concerns more than good writing or thoughtful questions. It’s about listening, basing your questions off what people are saying.

As someone who rarely takes a vacation or sick day, he does a lot of listening.


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