Freddie Coleman, one half of the Freddie and Fitz ESPN Radio show, is the powerful voice of the wee hours of the night. The show, which airs from 11 PM – 2 AM, touches on a plethora of current topics each and every weekday. Having been at ESPN for 12 years now, Coleman has seen everything from major, internal changes at the U.S.-based global cable and satellite television channel to A-Listers coming and out of the doors at the Bristol HQ on a regular.
We sat down with the ESPN Radio vet to discuss everything from the change in ESPN’s content over the years to his voice from God.
George Kiel: How have you seen ESPN’s content change over the years seeing that you’ve been there ever since 2004?
Coleman:When I first got to ESPN Radio, we simply talked sports all the time in serious manner, but over time, you’ve seen ESPN talk about sports in a humorous manner, sometimes, because we’ve realized that the topic of sports is an escape for some people. It’s not meant to be serious all the time. From that, I’ve learned that you can’t be serious about sports all the time because sports is not totally serious all the time.
George Kiel: Name some of your most memorable ESPN Radio interviews thus far.
Coleman: Man, that’s a really great question. I’ve been really lucky and blessed to get a chance to interview icons – not just in sports – who have a great love for sports. I’ll never forget the interview I did with Ice Cube, who is one of my heroes, in terms of hip hop, because of what he did with NWA, his solo stuff and what he has been able to do with movies and everything else outside of hip hop. It was pretty cool to be in the same room with him and talk about life situations and stuff that people haven’t had a chance to hear about him. I got a chance to interview Clyde Drexler during the Dream Team era, which was pretty cool. I interviewed Chris Mullin, who I had the chance of playing against in high school and in multiple recreation league games; so to meet with him after many years of competing against each other was pretty cool. I did an interview with Venus Williams. When you think about a pioneer in women’s’ sports, she’s it, hands down. So having a chance to talk with her about what she and Serena have been through – to be the kind of women and athletes that they are today – was pretty cool. As a New York Jets fan, getting a chance to interview Joe Namath was just royalty to me; to see that smile that everyone always talks about, and that great sense of self with everything that he has been through, was forever memorable.
George Kiel: What have you found that’s similar in your encounters with celebrity interviewing, if anything?
Coleman: The one common denominator that, I think, surprises a lot of people is the humility these high-profile people have. They have that confidence about them – no doubt about it – and it definitely borders on arrogance depending on what they’ve done, but there is also a sense of humility in terms of, ‘Man, I can’t believe I’m here at ESPN, and people want to talk to me about what I’ve done.’ When you have those four letters behind you (ESPN), that respect factor is going to be there no matter who it is.
George Kiel: You are known to have one of the most powerful and recognizable voices on ESPN Radio. What do you attribute that to?
Freddie Coleman: I definitely understand when people say that, but it has nothing to do me. That’s all from God, my friend. But I always tell people one thing about having a strong voice: it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like but rather what’s coming out of your mouth and what kind of effect it’s going to have on people. The most important thing about that is you have to be honest with yourself and be honest with the people that are listening to you. People know when you’re faking it or when your credibility should be called into question.
People can dispute any opinion that you might have, but no one should ever question if I’m being earnest, if I’m being honest. If I’m not doing that, not only am I doing myself disservice, but I’m really insulting the listeners out there. So it doesn’t matter if you have the greatest voice in the world of if you’re voice is sketchy, you should be able to hang your hat on honesty.
George Kiel: How do you deal with negativity from listeners in regards to what you talk about on radio.
Coleman: That’s easy. I enjoy my work, and I hope people continue to recognize it. And if people don’t, then I’m good with that because I know at the end of the day I’m gonna have fun with it and enjoy it. I can live with whatever people think of me or think about my work.
George Kiel: You and Ian Fitzsimmons have great synergy on the Freddie & Fitz show. What’s your advice to partners who want to create a great sense of unity on air?
Coleman: The key to that is you can’t not be you. It’s very easy to dial it back, but you have to always realize that the listeners want to hear the both of you together. And that’s something Ian and I are not afraid of at all. We’re going to be ourselves no matter what. We enjoy each other’s company and we enjoy working with each other because we’re not afraid to be ourselves with each other. Secondly, if you’re doing a show with a partner, listening is the greatest tool you can have. I’ve heard shows where there are 2-3 people talking and literally no one’s listening and everybody is just waiting for their chance to talk. Ultimately, it can sound very disjointed and haphazard. If you’re working with someone, they could say something that you react to and that’s when the show really expands itself. And it doesn’t mean you have to have a back-and-forth argument all the time, but when you’re paying attention to what your counterpart has to say instead of just waiting for your chance to speak, you’d be amazed at how much better that show is going to sound. No matter how much or how little you have a chance to speak on something, your voice is going to be heard.
George Kiel: One of the most unique things about the Freddie and Fitz show is that you guys air at a very unconventional time slot of 11 AM – 2 AM EST. How is your preparation different from shows that air in the morning or doing rush hour?
Coleman: Well, the day never stops. I’m a curious person by nature, so my mind is constantly working. Even when I wake up in the morning after being on the air the night before, I’m always trying to figure out what angles we can talk about or if we talked about something the night before that could have legs again for the next night’s show. Monday through Friday, you have to be in the mode of trying to find out what’s next. I’m looking at my phone, I’m looking at different websites and I’m always searching everywhere else to find out those topics to talk about on the show that night.
George Kiel: Growing up in New York, who were some of the on-air people you looked up to?
Coleman: Well, the one guy that I don’t think gets enough credit in our radio business for being a pioneer and getting this sports radio thing started is Art Russ, Jr. He did the first sports talk radio show in New York and back then, sports talk radio was not around. When he got started on WABC back in 1978, there was no WFAN and there was no ESPN Radio. He was doing a nightly sports talk show each and every night, and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world that somebody had a job like that – talking about New York sports and who did this, who did that and what the biggest trade of the day meant for that particular athlete or team. I thought it was cool to have an African American doing that, and he had such a huge following. But growing up, the guys who spun records were my heroes – the Chuck Lennons of the world, the Frankie Crockers of the world, the Harry Harrisons of the world. Those are the people that I got excited to hear because they were so excited when a new song dropped. I remember the late George Michael; he had The George Michael Sports Machine show, but he was the night DJ at WABC, playing Parliament, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and stuff like that. He was able to talk sports radio too, and he made it seem seamless. Those are the people that really helped me out along the way.
George Kiel: How would you describe your journey from growing up in New York as a kid to co-hosting your own show at ESPN Radio.
Coleman: As all journeys go, mine has had a lot of pitfalls, a lot of triumphs and a lot of tribulations. I would not have it any other way because my journey has allowed me to get to the point that I’m at right now, professionally and personally. I started off as a Top 40 DJ, spinning records in Portland, Maine – and I really enjoyed that first step of my career – but I never knew it would lead me to ESPN Radio. It’s something that I will cherish forever.
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