October 4, 2009
By Kim Roberson
The team that makes up The Morning Drive (TMD) on Sirius NASCAR Radio channel 128 is a family, and they act like it.
The four men who put the show on each week, hosts Mike “Bagman” Bagley from MRN radio and “Pistol” Pete Pistone of Racingone.com and WGN sports out of Chicago, as well as producer Tyler Miller and board operator Pete Koury (PK), usually put on the show from three different locations (the D-Pizzle Studios in Atlanta, the Paisan Palace in Chicago, and The Sirius/XM Beltway Bureau in Washington DC) each weekday morning from 7-11 a.m. est, however for one day only the week of the Dover race, all four were gathered in the same room to put on the show, and it was like four brothers who love and hate each other at the same time.
It has been a difficult year for this crew. Four months ago, their world was turned on its side when the show’s founding anchor, David Poole, died suddenly after signing off for the day on April 27th. It was unexpected, and brought a team of men from different walks of life together in a way that was virtually unheard of at the time it happened.
“David’s passing threw us all a curveball, none of us expected it. “explained Poole’s co-host and MRN turn announcer Mike Bagley when I sat down with the TMD team after their Wednesday show two weeks ago. “I called some fellow broadcasters in this sport and asked have you ever had to eulogize a partner in this sport, and no one had the answer. We didn’t know what we were doing; we had never been through this before. You automatically go into show mode and that four hours (the day after Poole’s death) was the hardest four hours of radio I have ever done, and as soon as I cracked that mike, I was like ‘God, you’re killing me here.’ And then first I’d be fine, and then I’d break down. When they called my ISDN box that morning, I was wadded up, it was just a mess.”
With a show that has been as popular as The Morning Drive has been, it was important to locate a person to take over as co-host that would be able to carry on the vision first laid out by Poole and Sirius XM Senior Vice President of Sports Programming Steve Cohen.
Photo By Kim Roberson
Pete Koury, Pete Pistone, Mike Bagley and Tyler Miller
“When Andrew Fitzpatrick (Sports PR Director for Sirius/XM Radio) and I made our first trip to the track together, and it was Richmond, the first person we ran into in the media center was David, and he is the first person we started discussing our thoughts about NASCAR radio and what we wanted to do here, and what we were hoping to build. We sat down with David and he really opened our eyes to a lot of things so far as the sport and covering the sport and how it would transcend to a 24/7 sports talk product, along with the live racing coverage -- so he meant a great deal to me both personally and from a business standpoint in terms of helping give me ideas on things we should look for on building this channel.”
After David passed away, the most important decision that needed to be made was finding another person to fill the chair that David had occupied since the day the show went on the air.
“(The Wednesday a week after David’s death) started the rotation of Pete Pistone, Nate Ryan, Randy Lajoie, Buddy Baker (as co-hosts)." explained Bagley about the selection of his new morning partner. “And so while there were replacement hosts, I wasn’t even ready to listen for replacement hosts until weeks after that, although, first time I worked with Pistol (Pistone’s nickname on the show), there was something there.
"In radio you look for chemistry, and you listen for chemistry, and although the gentlemen that filled in were great guys, it wasn’t there. I wasn’t looking for another David, I was looking for someone who I could bounce off of each other, I could play with, in a time I didn’t feel like playing -- I was still licking the wounds -- to this day I’m still licking the wounds from that. But he comes on the scene and the first day we work together I commented to Tyler, I think we’ve got something here, and when he and I started bouncing things off each other, I knew he was the one. Nothing negative about the other guys, but there was just that something…I can’t put my finger on it, as far as our chemistry on the air, it just happened.”
Photo By Kim Roberson
PK runs the board during the show
Pistone says he wasn’t even thinking about this as a full time job when he started filling in after David’s death. “In all honesty, it never crossed my mind (to become a co-host) to be totally honest with you, I really didn’t, because I had done weekend stuff and I thought I’d fill in, but I think that was just another thing that became.”
“The thing I liked about it when Pistol came on was he respectful of the situation, he was respectful of the seat, and he was respectful of our feelings. And I asked him the question, “What’s going on?” -- because you are stepping into a situation where the apple cart is upside down and you are trying to put all the apples back in.” says Bagley. “He came onto the scene as the new guy, and he could have wanted to change things, but he didn’t and that speaks to his personality and character and that appealed to me.
"As we have made the transition we have made baby steps. One of the first things to come out of his mouth after the transition was ‘A new chapter of The Morning Drive’, and it’s in our show opening. We’ve not forgotten where we have been, it has been David and Marty Snyder and me, and now it is Pete Pistone is added to the roster."
Being respectful of where the show has come from, and respectful going forward, and not looking to erase or replace.”
The “new” team of “The Bagman”, “Pistol Pete”, Tyler, and PK realize that while their show is similar to the others that make up the programming on Sirius/XM 128 they have a special role to fill by starting off listener's days, and that the chemistry between the four men is important to help that along.
“Our show right now is four guys sitting down and talking NASCAR and we’re interacting with fans, and we’re interacting with NASCAR personalities. We went to dinner in Iowa with some folks and they were in stitches because that is the way we are, we love to have a good time, I think we try to make each other laugh because we come up with some absurd stuff, and then you laugh at the absurdity and you are like ‘Back it down’” adds Bagley, using one of Poole’s favorite lines. “I think we all four have a dry sense of humor, bless his heart over here, Camo guy (Tyler) -- Puddin -- and PK, who really is not a NASCAR guy but he has learned the sport. But Pistol hit it on the head, we’re from four different walks of life but the common thread is we love to laugh, we love to make people laugh, and sometimes we’ll make ourselves look like idiots in the process but the egos aren’t there -- we just like having fun, we shoot stuff, and we talk NASCAR as well, and I think that is what makes us click right now.”
Pistone continues “ And I think a morning show should be different. I think the morning show should be high energy, humor, kind of freewheeling, and I think the show we do right now stands out from the rest of them, and not that the other ones are bad, it’s just different, and all the morning shows I have ever listened to in a major market it’s kind of upbeat, you go on to traffic you go on to weather, people are getting their day started. You don’t just go interview, break, talk, interview, break, talk. You can’t do it that way, I wouldn’t listen to it. I keep saying this is the kind of morning show I’d listen to…I’d listen! I’d think you all are idiots, but I’d listen!”
Cohen agrees. “You have to be able to laugh in the morning and have some fun and sure, take on the issues and all that, but in the end it has to be a morning show and you have to have people calling in and giving opinions, and having some fun, but you also have to do a good job of recapping the race because whatever you do it is expert opinion for the NASCAR fans, and when it comes to that and what is happening on the track, that is no joke and we have to deliver; so I just think Pete and Mike really formed a quality morning show duo that has really given the fans a quality morning show, not to say that it replaces what David did because you can’t do that, but I think we have put together a show in the morning that race fans really enjoy.”
Bagley says they try to bring in their real life experiences to show fans that they are just the same as they are, even though they have the advantage of covering the sport every day. “We get a lot of heat for our first segment -- we get heat that is like ‘When I tune in at 7 am I want to hear about NASCAR, I don’t want to hear about your trials and tribulations at the airport, or hear about soccer last night or changing the blades on my riding mower’.
I’m kidding, I kid because I care -- or eating hamburger helper watching family guy -- actually, that’s not a bad night. I think…the stuff we talk about happens to us, and this is stuff that people can relate to, and let me tell you, when I am screwed up in the airport and I’m standing up with Delta, and we’ve got the weather going on, there are people out there doing the same thing, or if I go to WalMart and I’m facing a man in flip flops at some point, someone’s going to be like ‘Can you cover those things up’, people can relate to us, we can relate to the folks and they can relate to us, because we are just like everyone else, we get up, we do our thing, and we talk about it, and we experience things in life that everyone else experiences.”
But just because they have fun doesn’t mean they don’t take their job seriously. “I don’t think there has ever been a time where I think we haven’t covered the sport. There are some days when there isn’t as much going on in the sport, and those are the days where we do kind of spin off … I don’t think we do it at the expense of not being a good NASCAR show. If there is a hard topic, we deal with it. There is a balance there we are trying to find I think, we don’t want to be so far one way but yet so far the other way. “
Bagley points out that both he and Pistone have been involved with the sport for most of their lives.
“Pistol and I have a passion for this sport. We grew up in the sport," said Bagley. "I’ve been in it ever since I was five years old, I have been working for MRN for 17 years, I have been hanging around MRN for 24 years. So it isn’t just like I went to the track for the first time last week. I care for this sport. If I see something about the sport I don’t’ like, I’m going to say it, but at the same time, if I’m going to be critical, I’m also going to be fair. If I see something wrong, I’m going to say “You know what, I don’t really care for this, and here is how I think it should be better, and I think there is a lot if that out there right now.”
Pistone's uncle, Tiger Tom Pistone, raced in NASCAR for several years in the early to mid 60’s.
As the NASCAR season winds down, the TMD crew will continue to tweak their show, and look forward to a long run as the new chapter of The Morning Drive leaves a very difficult year behind and moves into its second season.
“We are dealing with something difficult," Bagley continued. "We can still find some humor about it, and yeah we’ll throw ourselves on the stake from time to time, and you know, hey I did this and it was dumb, and everyone will laugh at you, but you can laugh at yourself because it is light hearted, and we’re having a good time, we’re having a blast.”
It is that good humor and irreverence that make The Morning Drive worth waking up for each morning, and the reason why I use it to put a smile on my face before heading to work.
You can catch the Morning Drive Monday through Friday from 7-11 a.m. eastern on Sirius NASCAR Radio, Sirius/XM channel 128.