As many of you are aware, on October 16th I took a leave of absence from hosting, The KSFO Morning Show. I’ll be sharing details of what the future holds in an upcoming post very soon.
However, in the meantime, please allow me to first take you on a stroll down Brian’s Broadcasting Lane…
It began in the late Seventies. I was in college at the University of Missouri, majoring in Radio/TV/Film production and working two side gigs. One was as a studio cameraman for the 6PM newscasts at the ABC-TV affiliate in Columbia, Missouri, the other was doing a Sunday overnight on-air shift at the top AM radio station in town, KFRU. For a young guy who desired a career in broadcast media, this was a super exciting start.
Upon graduation, the owner of the TV station offered me a full-time job overseeing his small newsroom staff by day and anchoring the 10 o’clock news at night.
The station was mess. The owner’s previous employment was in the engineering department of a TV channel in St. Louis. I believe the story was he inherited some money and decided to launch this ABC affiliate about seven years earlier. He was the general manager, his wife oversaw the books, and his son was in charge of sales. While I respected his entrepreneurial spirit, each day at the station delivered a fresh segment of real life drama; some quite hilarious. I’ll never forget the time our sports guy, Jim, came to work and, first thing as usual, hit the bathroom. It was a one-toilet john and the only such facility in the entire station. A minute or two after he exited the throne room, the wife of the GM entered it.
She immediately did a U-turn and with a sour expression declared to all, “People! From now on do your big business at home!”
From then on, Jim did his “big business” at the Exxon up the street.
As for me, the job ended with a clang. I loved television news and, despite not getting a raise after my first-year review, wasn’t complaining. Nobody had received a raise in a couple years and, realistically, I was still new to the business and learning more each day. Finally after two years, en masse, every employee in the station received a minuscule pay increase. We were all rather pleased. However, two paychecks later, without warning, the increase vanished.
Speaking on behalf of my newsroom employees, I asked the owner why the raises disappeared. He curtly replied, “Because no one here is worth it!”
The troops in all departments were up in arms. For whatever reason, the entire staff (probably about 20 people) was banking on me to fix things with the GM. “We’ve got your back, Brian,” they assured me.
So, on a Friday afternoon, they all followed me into the owner’s office, standing directly behind my back as I took a seat across the desk from our boss. I calmly explained to him how my co-workers were already being paid below-market wages and retracting everyone’s raise was unethical.
The GM sat, listened, and said nothing. When I was done speaking he simply motioned to the door and we went back to our various duties.
Clueless, I entered that weekend not knowing what was about to occur.
By the way, I was married just a few months after graduation (we met in college and remain happily married to this day!). My wife had just finished a Master’s degree in Special Education and had a nice contract teaching in the local school district. She knew that I enjoyed running the newsroom and being on TV, but she could see that the owner was making me plain miserable. Before bed on that Sunday night we literally got down on our knees and prayed about my job. I recall actually saying, “Lord, please, do something.”
No sooner did I walk into work Monday morning, and something did happen.
I was fired.
And strangely relieved.
I recall immediately driving home in my little Chevy Vega station wagon, entering our apartment complex parking lot and seeing my wife leaving for work in her car. We each slowed down and lowered our windows.
“I think the prayer was answered! I got fired,” I shouted.
“Everything will be fine! Got to get to work. We’ll talk later,” she exclaimed as she sped off.
What can I say? We were both twenty-four, in love, happy-go-lucky, and believed deep down that somehow everything would work out just fine.
And it did.
We next decided that I should look for a TV news job out west. My wife was born and raised on the coast in Santa Cruz, California, and I had lived the early years of my life in the Los Angeles area, so heading west made sense. In no time, I took a job anchoring the weekend sportscast and doing general assignment reporting during the week at KOLO-TV, Channel 8, in Reno, Nevada. A few months into the gig, the weeknight weatherman fell ill and I was asked to stand in. To make a long story short, that substitution soon led to me becoming the station’s full-time weather guy, sitting next to the iconic Reno TV newsman, Tad Dunbar. It was at KOLO that I began performing something no other weather people in the country were doing: taking my weather report out of the confines of the station to broadcast outdoors with real people in attendance. I also hosted a popular segment each night on the 11PM newscast, known as Night Scene. These reports highlighted the various acts playing the hotel and casino stages in town and allowed me to interview some incredibly famous people.
A couple years later (1983), I was offered the weather position at KNTV, Channel 11, which at that time primarily covered San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley. Deciding to get serious about this career path, I immediately enrolled in San Jose State University’s highly regarded meteorology program in pursuit of an American Meteorological Society certification and a degree. I continued my outdoor weather shows and began a new weekly educational feature explaining, “How Weather Works.”
In 1985, our newscast with Doug Moore, Maggie Scura, Jeff Richmond and yours truly, blew everyone in Bay Area television away by being bestowed an Emmy for “Best Newscast of the Year.”
My big break came in 1987 when I was hired by Group W, a prestigious television syndicate that owned top-tier stations back east and in San Francisco (KPIX, Channel 5). Among other things, they loved the cutting-edge, live weathercasts I was doing outdoors as well as the educational reports. I became the weekend meteorologist and science reporter at KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was also hired as the substitute weatherman on the nationally broadcast CBS This Morning program, based in New York City. While in Pittsburgh I also co-produced an elementary school weather curriculum that became popular in schools nationwide. My efforts were eventually honored by the National Educational Association with an award of excellence presented to me in Washington, D.C.
In late 1988, Group W (eventually the company merged with CBS) signed me to a contract in San Francisco where I became the weeknight meteorologist at KPIX-TV, working alongside exceedingly popular anchor, Dave McElhatton (as well as Kate Kelly, Wendy Takuda, Wayne Walker, and eventually Anna Chavez, Dana King, and Dan Fouts). I also continued my fill-in slot on CBS This Morning. Dave oozed with old school talent and took me under his wing as my mentor. Prior to TV, Dave had enjoyed a stellar career as one of the top radio hosts in San Francisco. He taught me timing, delivery, how to interview, how to nail a punchline, and the art of winging it with style (plus, knowing we worked in a volatile business, he also gave me the best financial advice ever–but that’s another story for another day). Dave and I enjoyed dinner together once or twice a week, and on a couple of special occasions we flew in his private plane to lunch in Napa prior to starting our shifts at the TV station.
The lively times with Dave went on steroids when KPIX hired “The Fresh Grocer” Tony Tantillo as a daily feature, as well as Hall of Fame Quarterback and San Francisco native Dan Fouts, (replacing Wayne Walker on sports). My golf game was never so good, because we all played together often. A few times we zoomed off to Napa after the late news so we could get a round of golf in before work the next day. In the summer, once a week we’d hustle over to Lincoln Park golf course right after the closing credits rolled at the end of the Six O’clock News. Our clubs were all in the back of a car parked in the red-zone in front of the station on Battery Street. We’d peel up Broadway Street and (with the assistance of the clubhouse) be on the tee by 7:20. The goal was to play as many holes as possible before sunset. If there was a breaking news story that required us to get back to station ASAP, dear Leona, who ran the newsroom assignment desk, knew how to reach us.
I stacked up the professional kudos during those years, including being named “Best Weathercast” in the state eight times by the Associated Press, and a record nine times by the Radio-TV News Directors’ Association. In 1999, San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker and I were co-honored as “Man of the Year” by the Juvenile Diabetes Association. Several times I received “Readers’ Choice” honors as “Favorite Weathercaster” by The San Francisco Chronicle. One year during the crazy Bay to Breakers footrace in San Francisco, thousands of people ran the 7.46-mile contest wearing Brian Sussman masks.
Looking back, I feel fortunate to have worked in television’s major leagues during the last big years of local television news, before those colossal audiences were drained by the deep proliferation of cable, streaming programs, and social media. The talent pool in the large markets back then was astounding, and the lucrative financial compensation was never to be seen again.
Of all the things I was a part of while at KPIX, there was nothing more rewarding than Brian’s Kids. It was a 5-minute segment every Wednesday, wherein we highlighted the life of a foster child who was eligible for adoption. My wife and I had three kids by this time and two were adopted, so it was easy to put my heart and soul into the project. Brian’s Kids was extremely successful; during the course of ten-years we saw over 400 children adopted! It was incredible and personally life-changing, as I will share.
One of the last children ever featured on Brian’s Kids was a skinny little six-year-old named Joshua. There was something about this youngster that touched my heart, and after meeting him I shared his story with my wife. A get-together was arranged to have Joshua visit our family. The connection was magical.
After Josh’s visit, we had a family huddle to see if adopting him was the right thing for us to do. All agreed, we should adopt Josh. However, all also agreed that if we did make him a part of our family, I needed to find another job: the demands of my TV career meant leaving home sometimes as early as noon and returning back home well after midnight. My kids (and my wife) needed me around in the evening, especially if we were going to add a fourth child.
So, I shocked everyone in the TV news world and quit, mid-contract.
It was 2001.
I casually began talking to radio stations about becoming a talk show host. Unanimously, the program directors I spoke with couldn’t grasp the idea of a former TV weatherman doing talk radio, especially of the conservative variety.
And then, September 11th occurred. I was listening to KSFO when news broke that America had been attacked.
The Sales Manager at the local Christian station, KFAX-AM, was an acquaintance and knew I was interested in radio. With the airports all shutdown because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, the station’s late afternoon host was unable to get back into the Bay Area from a trip he had taken out of the country. KFAX called to see if I could fill-in for a few days, which I did. The shows went remarkably well (my first guest on 9/11 was bestselling author and commentator Ann Coulter, speaking to us from New York City). In fact, it went so well that they gave me my own program each afternoon, Monday through Friday.
Within a few months, KSFO heard about my success on the Christian station and, in March of 2002, signed me to a three-year deal to host my own show from 6 to 8PM, as well as to host The KSFO Morning Show with Lee Rodgers and Melanie Morgan each Monday (Lee had negotiated a four-day-a-week schedule).
Eventually I was given the reigns to The KSFO Morning Show in 2009.
In 2010 my first book, Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam was published, rocketing to the top-10 in sales during the first week out. In 2012, the follow up book, Eco-Tyranny: How the Left’s Green Agenda Will Dismantle America, also became a bestseller.
That said, for the past decade I’ve been living a dream, and have been the only live and local conservative morning radio host in San Francisco (the only other conservative on the radio in this market is my friend Michael Savage, whose afternoon show is nationally syndicated). As for our popular morning program, Sheri Yee has been the producer since its inception with Lee Rodgers in the late Nineties (there is not a better producer in all radio and hosts across the country acknowledge this). The lovely, super-talented, and hilarious Katie Green came on board with us in 2011. Together we laugh, we learn, and when necessary we can get really fired up.
What you likely don’t know is that during my years at KSFO, our morning ratings have steadily and respectably grown, as have our revenues. Often the show has the largest streaming audience of any local program in America. To add a little more frosting to the cake, in 2018 the San Francisco Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame conducted a vote of the people and distinguished me as broadcaster of the year. And then there’s Savage. I’ve been a huge fan since he first hit the KSFO airwaves in the Nineties, you could even say he was an inspiration for me even thinking about going into talk radio. When he asked me to fill-in for him many years ago I was thrilled, and have done it countless times since!
The major highlights from The KSFO Morning Show have been numerous. On a Monday, during an interview with California’s Republican Party chairman regarding the recent increase in the vehicle license fee, I naively asked if it was possible to recall Governor Gray Davis who signed the bill into law. A year later, Gray was gone.
Then there was the spur-of-the-moment plan to demonstrate against (another) outlandish gun-grab by the state legislature. We figured we’d rally a couple hundred people at one of our sponsor’s gun shop in Pacifica (City Arms). We were all blown away when thousands of listeners showed up. Interestingly, City Arms instantly became so popular they no longer needed to advertise on our program!
Another wild moment was when my first book was published and I was asked to participate in a book signing at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton. I planned on bringing 500 books, but my wife insisted we bring 1,500. The crowds of listeners were so thick we ended up selling out and exchanging IOU’s with over 500 additional people who were eventually sent a book in the mail.
Then there was the live on-air party we threw for our listeners in the KSFO studios in 2019. Successful attendees had to be amongst the first 100 people to contact the station in writing. We stopped counting after the first thousand attempted to join us.
Now, as we enter a new decade, these are some of the great memories of a media career that I truly feel so blessed to have experienced.
Thank you for your wonderful support all these many years.
In an upcoming post very soon I’ll share what the future holds.