by Patrick Hoffman on 05/29/09 at 02:07 PM ET
As you all know, I am a big fan of XM’s Home Ice Channel. The channel produces great content on a daily basis, gets great guests on its shows and has extremely knowledgeable hosts.
With that in mind, I was lucky enough to do an interview with one of the hosts - Mick Kern. Kern took some time to tell us about how he got into hockey, the radio industry and his thoughts on the game in general.
Here we go:
PH: How did you first get into hockey?
MK: Growing up in Western Canada, everyone and their dog seemed to be into hockey. They were also into the CFL (Canadian Football League), and my first-ever favourite team was the Calgary Stampeders, particularly when they upset Joe Theismann and the Toronto Argonauts in the 1971 Grey Cup.
That same year, a young rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. I got hooked on the Habs because of Dryden (his bone mask was way cool to a seven-year-old), and also because my father cheered for Montreal.
Now, he only cheered for Montreal because his favourite player, Frank Mahovlich, was playing for them. I shudder to think if the Big M had still been with Toronto. If he had remained with Detroit, well, not so bad.
My earliest memories of watching NHL hockey revolves around the Canadiens and the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final, probably in 1969….which is why the Blues remain my second-favourite team…and my favourite uniform. That Bluenote is perfect. Gary Unger was a favourite of mine, so were the Plager’s, and John Davidson in net, and Wayne Stephenson, and Eddie Stanowski, hey, even Doug Grant. I’ve always loved the goaltenders.
PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team? How about your favorite player?
MK: Overall, Kenneth Wayne Dryden is my favourite player, though Guy Lafleur is my favourite “out guy”, as my five-year-old son puts it. Denis Potvin was my favourite defenceman. Guy Lapointe would also be right up there. As would Gary Unger, John Tonelli, Terry Ruskowski, Glenn Hall, Bryan Trottier during his Islander days, Jean Ratelle, Doug Soetart, Bernie Parent in Philly, Mike Rogers while with my beloved WHA Edmonton Oilers, Paul Reinhart, Bob Gainey, Gilles Gilbert, and the most talented hockey player of all-time, Fran Huck. I mean, Mario Lemieux.
PH: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved in hockey?
MK: Probably when I saw how cool goalies looked in their equipment. I can’t draw to save my life, but I scribbled all over my workbooks in elementary school, trying to duplicate all the NHL and WHA goaltenders and their individual masks and poses. Got a mask and goalie stick for Christmas in 1974. Still have the mask, the stick was smashed to pieces eleven years later in a fit of rage after being scored upon during a street hockey game in downtown Ottawa.
PH: How did you first get involved with the hockey media? What are some of the outlets you worked for?
MK: I’ve been involved in radio since September 1981, when I answered an ad and tried out for one of the all-night volunteer announcer position’s at CKCU-FM, the respected university station at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. I had just turned 18, and was the youngest of the applicants. Being totally into music, particularly punk, and the emerging American hardcore scene (Fear, Dead Kennedy’s, X, Germs, TSOL, Flipper, Minutemen, D.O.A., etc.), I got the gig. Spent ten wonderful years there, mostly hosting music shows, but also dabbling in sports. Did the sports reports for the morning show in 1986, my first year of university, but quit when my body refused to get up at 4:30 every morning.
That gig was a volunteer one, but it was fantastic experience. Mike Ross later worked at CKCU, and other names have passed through there. Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun worked there just before I did. Apparently, they hired only guys named Mike.
After playing professionally in a rock band for six years, and then finishing university, and then chasing after one too many doomed relationships with beautiful women, it was time to leave the relative backwater of Ottawa, and I headed to Toronto. Even while involved in music, I always kept up my passion for hockey, baseball and football. Sometimes, it’s what kept me going on some of those road trips. Cheaper than alcohol, safer than drugs.
In 1995, I sent my resume to the Fan 590, the all-sports radio station here in Toronto, and was surprised when I got a call to come in for an interview. The thing is, it was for a support technical job, but it was a foot-in-the-door. For the first three years, I worked on the network radio broadcasts for the Toronto Blue Jays. A great gig, though the pay wasn’t the best. The trouble was, I got typecast as a techy guy, and was never able to make the jump back to the sports side.
Wandered around a bit after that. Dabbled in TV, doing audio work. Finally landed back in all-sports radio with The Team All-Sports radio network here in Toronto. That lasted 15 fun months, before they changed formats, and fired all of us. Learned a ton, as I was the main evening producer. Got to talk with a lot of people in the North American sporting world. Never did on-air stuff, but met a lot of the folks you now listen to on NHL Home Ice. Rossy, Scott Laughlin, Jamie Shalley, and Craig James, for example. I had worked with Shawn Lavigne and Joe Thistel earlier at The Fan, though they were also at The Team.
When the Team was blown up in August of 2002, I had to scramble for a job. Couldn’t stand the hours at Sportsnet, the all-sports TV network, so I ended up working temp stuff at a bank. The nightmares are still with me. During that dry spell, got a call to work on “Live From Wayne Gretzky’s” radio show, with Paul Romanuck and Shawn Lavigne. That started September 2003, and from there, I was in a good position when they began hiring for Home Ice.
PH: How did you get involved with XM’s Home Ice Hockey Channel? Tell us about your various responsibilities and the shows you work for?
MK: Joe Thistel hired me in October 2005, and my first duty was to call all the NHL arenas, and ask the game staff what songs they playing during the breaks-in-play. For the most part, I got the same depressing predictable answers…Bon Jovi, Brown Eyed Girl, AC/DC, etc. I recall that New Jersey had a Clash song in there, and not one of their hits. I think it was “What’s My Name”. That was a pleasant surprise.
They sent Dan Blakeley, Peter Berce, Craig James and I down to the XM studios in Washington to learn the system. The Capitals were not at home that week, but I did get the security guard to get the staff to open up the souvenir booth at the arena, so I could buy some Capitals stuff.
When we first went to-air, I worked the on-air board for the Hockey Beat and the Power Play, hosted by Jim Tatti, and produced by Mike Ross. It was a good time, but as we progressed, all of us quickly had to learn additional duties. I took over the daily adminstration of the Home Ice Info Channel and the Home Plate Info Channel, trying to make them as presentable as possible. Also began writing promos, and eventually got thrown into updates. I enjoy writing promos and features. In fact, it’s probably my favourite thing to do.
Joe Thistel finally had enough of me arguing hockey with him in the hall, and he threw me on-air with Rossy and Blakeley for The War Room as of March 2007. It was the first time I had been on a show since September 1991, so I was more than a little rusty for the first few months. Listening back to those tapes now is cringe inducing. No doubt some still feel that way.
These days, I also handle some production work, and bits and pieces of other business. The average hockey fan might be surprised how much behind-the-scenes stuff has to be done in order to keep a channel such as NHL Home Ice on-air.
PH: What are you trying to bring hockey fans that listen to your channel/various shows?
MK: Well, I never played the game of hockey at an advanced level, though I’ve been playing, reading about, watching, listening, arguing, and dreaming about hockey since I was seven. It’s in my blood. I often say, baseball is my favourite sport, but hockey is my religion.
To that end, Dan and I try to have some fun with the game. We’re not about x-and-o’s. We leave that to the experts. But our opinions are steeped in decades of closely watching this game, and I am a student of the history of hockey. There’s always something new to learn. And we know that most listener’s are just as passionate and just as knowledgable about the game. When Joe Thistel came up with the concept of The War Room, he wanted it to be a bunch of guys in a bar, arguing hockey. Well, except for the booze, I think we do that. Some don’t like that, and want x-and-o’s talk. There is a place for that, and there’s also a place for our act. Most listener’s, when they call up or email, sound like they get it. They sound like they’re also having fun, even if they’re arguing with us, right Marty in Boston?
PH: What direction do you think XM Home Ice will go in over the next couple of years?
MK: Don’t really know. I hope that the we can continue to have autonomy when it comes to editorial content. Hockey fans are smart. They know when they are being fed corporate spin. I love the NHL, though I don’t always agree with what the league does. Regardless, Dan and I calculated that our channel probably talks “positive” hockey talk 80% of the time, and 20% “critical” talk the remainder. That seems to be a pretty fair ratio to me. If we were shills for the league, I think the listener would throw their radio through the window. At the same time, it’s crucial to present both sides of a story.
PH: Now for some actual hockey talk: In your opinion, what has been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL playoffs this season? Why? How about the disappointments?
MK: The resurrection of Cam Ward, though his injury problems in the third round put an end to that tale. Varlamov playing in Washington. The end of Mike Keenan in the NHL, hopefully. And the Sid and Gino show in Pittsburgh. They are the best two hockey players in the world. Yes, Ovechkin is the most exciting, but I’d take the Pen Boys first. Oh, and the continuing impressive sage of the Detroit Red Wings. A class team. A class organization. And one more…Chris Osgood. If he wins the Cup this upcoming round, how can you not seriously consider him for the Hockey Hall-of-Fame? Waaaay before Curtis Joseph, for in the end, gaudy regular-season numbers pale in comparison to Cup wins.
PH: Will the Red Wings win the Cup this year again? Why or why not?
MK: Dan Blakeley picked the Wings in 6, and seeing that we’re tied for the NHL Home Ice lead in playoff predictions, I had to go with the Penguins in 7. Either way, a very good team wins. Both would be a credit to the league. Anybody but the Ducks. Did I mention I hate the Ducks?
PH: Any words of wisdom for our readers here at Kukla’s Korner?
MK: Yes, please, if you are able to, donate some cash to this fine website. It is a beacon in the night to hockey fans, particularly in the U.S. And remember to spay and neuter your pets.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.