A true one and only in the Chicago radio and sports scene, Jonathan Hood (commonly known as JHood) can be heard almost daily on ESPN 1000, doing weekly team wrap-ups and “Chicago’s Gamenight” among a myriad of other broadcasts.
More than two decades into the broadcasting game, Hood casts a large shadow on those who have chosen choose to come into the business since and not because of his physique, which belies one of the most welcoming personalities in Chicago media.
A two-time Chicagoland Achievement in Radio Award winner, Hood has worked as an intern, a producer and a host next to and with many of the bold names in the city’s radio scene, from Sam Sylk in his days at Kennedy-King College’s radio station to Mike North and Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein at The Score 670, leading to his now nine-year run as a main player in the ESPN affiliate’s programming.
Hood hasn’t just lived off giving his opinion and taking quotes, though, he has also spent much of his professional career teaching and mentoring young and aspiring broadcasters, mostly so with the Illinois Center of Broadcasting and along the line he’s had every intent on broadening and opening more doors in broadcasting for voices who previously haven’t been heard.
Here the big man of Chicago sports radio speaks to Demonze Spruiel of “The D and Davis Show” and WARR.com lead editor Kyle Means on the issue of making sports talk more diverse along with giving insight into his 20+ years of experience and what makes him go as a journalist and commentator. As his story proves, once he gets going, Hood is hard to stop.
WARR: You have been in in the radio game for 20 years? You started your career at WKKC as a DJ? What kind of music did you play?
Hood: A lot of if it was stuff from the early 90’s, like SWV, Silk, it was all R&B During that time it was just love music, everything was medium-slow, a lot H-Town, new Keith Sweat at the time. There wasn’t a lot of fast music there, maybe some Robin S every now and then, “Show Me Love”. For the most part I was doing a lot of medium-slow. I was doing mid-days a couple of times a week. It was cool.
WARR: And you also were a sports reporter for the station at the time? What did that entail?
Hood: First of all, I wanted to be in computers. It was 1990, that was my first interest — word processing and computers, that was the first thing.
I didn’t know where (the station) KKC was on campus, because I was so into computers. My interest was in radio, but I don’t know where it is, but I said I am going to find out. My interest was computers first but I said, you know this is not where I want to go for the long haul so I ended up doing sports talk on KKC right before (DJ) Pinkhouse’s show. Pinkhouse was the guy, man, when it comes to rap radio at the time he was so instrumental for my career and so many others during that time.
So I started to do sports talk. I worked in the news room doing news reports and sports. I eventually became the news and sports director at KKC. The guy that was there, JJ Hardy, had left and they said we have a void to fill and we want you to fill it and I said sure. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I know news, I know sports so I can do something. That was my first real job of being an overseer of a group of people — six on the sports side and six on the news side. It was a whole different experience and it was thrown all into my lap at once and off I went.
WARR: Did you continue to do your shows or did you take a step back because of your new role and responsibilities?
Hood: No, I did both. When you have a passion for something, you’ll live in the studio all day and that’s where my career started at KKC. It was one of those things where so many people that I went to school with, guys like Sam Sylk or Richard Dill, we would never leave campus. From the time the station would open, we were encouraging one another and we were trying to throw out ideas that would enhance each other’s show. That’s what made it so unique at the time. We were there from the beginning, lunch, be around for other people shows, talk about the shows afterwards, hangout afterwards, and it would be nighttime and we would still be at the station. So it would be for me, not just running the news and sports department doing my show but always helping everybody else because you lift as you climb. And we believed that at an early age coming up in the business.
WARR: Where did that passion first stem from as far being into radio and broadcasting?
I was always a sports fan growing up watching Harry Caray, watching the White Sox on Channel 44, back in the day when it was on WSNS. I always had a passion for sports. I played it a little bit and when I realized I couldn’t hit the curve ball in high school, I said maybe I should sit down and talk about it and learn about it.
I guess it was from an early age of just watching sports and then on top of that I grew up with my grandparents. When you grow up with your grandparents you live the lifestyle they live, they were always listening to the radio. Whether it is was politics, and politics were real hot and heavy at the time, especially Chicago politics with Mayor (Harold) Washington at the time in the 80’s — first black mayor in Chicago, in listening to WVON, WIND at the time and WMAQ, I would just do what they did. They listened to the radio and then sit down and talked about the issues of the day, news, sports, whatever, at the dinner table.
Because of them wanting to discuss it with me, that gave me a passion to able to talk about it on the air. I listened to those talk shows, I listened to music shows and talk shows growing up. I might have been the only guy on my block listening to talk shows, political talk shows. There was only like one, maybe two sports shows at time and that was Chet Coppock and the other one was JJ Jackson on 1390 at the time on (W)GCI AM when I was coming up, which now inspirational (music) 1390, but back then it as known as GCI AM. JJ Jackson was the only black voice that was doing sports talk at the time to be on weeknights at 6 for an hour or two, he had his own sports show and listening to all that and listening to the radio, you know, that’s the kind of thing that got me real passionate about the business.
WARR: Talk about your first time interning at (670 AM) The Score?
Hood: It was 820 then. I had two internships at the same time. Along with working at KKC, I was an intern at WVON also for Ty Wansley‘s show. At the time Ty had his own talk show, so I was interned for his show and shortly afterwards they kind of overlapped, I worked at The Score also.
That story is very unique too. I was reading Robert Feder’s column in the Sun-Times in the fall of ’91. Feder’s column, even today, is hot. If you want to know what is going on, you go to him. If you ever get fired, you will find out from him first, you won’t find out internally. That’s the way the business is [laughter]. I would just read his column and I saw in the Sun-Times it was going to be a new all-sports station coming. I was sitting on 91st and South Chicago in the Osco parking lot and I’m sitting there reading a paper and I saw that and was like, man, I have to be part of that. An all sports station?! I said somehow, someway I have to be a part of that.
So I guess I’m just very blessed that they chose me because they could have chose anyone else, but they chose a kid from Kennedy King, which is again very rare. I don’t hear too many more Kennedy King success stories as it was in the ’90s, unfortunately. So they choose me over guys from Columbia (College), guys from bigger universities, Missouri and everywhere else. I started off working the Tom Shaer Show. It was a really good experience for me because working an internship, it just shows you how fast things move — you have to get done yesterday and you have to deal with personalities. The other thing is, it’s funny for the first time for me spending a lot of time on the North Side. Being a South Side guy, I don’t even know where Belmont is. Like, where is Mozart?
One of the funniest stories I always tell is about Mike Greenberg, of “Mike and Mike in the Morning” now. He and I were on the same level, we were producing together at times. Greenberg told me once, he said, he had little more expression than I did, he said, “Hoodie, this is what I need you to do. I need you to go get me a beef sandwich, make sure it is sweet. It’s at Six Corners” … he’s moving his hands around, moving his head around… “make sure you get me a beef, make sure it’s good.” And I’m like “at Six Corners?” “Yea, you know where it is.” And I’m like, “oh yea!” I’m, like, lost in my ‘84 white Chevette and people know when I was coming because you can see the smoke belching out the back. You always knew when Hood was in the neighborhood.
It was an hour and a half, I had no idea where that thing was, Six Corners, Sammies beef or whatever the hell it was called at the time. I came back and the thing was cold. Greenberg asked “what happened?” I was like, “you’d never believe it man. You would never believe what happened. This is amazing…the car wreck that took place on Six Corners. The traffic couldn’t move…” And this was like pre-microwave too. It was not like we had an oven. So it was definitely a shock to me to realize it was another part of the city after being South and Southeast and West for the majority my life.
WARR: Do you ever get a chance to go back to KKC?
Hood: I have attempted to. Before I started teaching at the Illinois Center For Broadcasting, I wanted to teach there and they said I needed to have more skins on the wall or more than an associate’s degree, so I thought that was interesting — 20 years experience didn’t add up at Kennedy King. I said, oh okay, so I guess they didn’t need my experience. That’s why I went to Illinois Center For Broadcasting. Them and Columbia, they both accepted my experience, but Kennedy King didn’t so I listen to (KKC) every now and then, but it’s not really on my radar. My hope is somewhere down the line I’d be able to come back and speak to the students because I’m sure there’s a lot of talent there except there, its just not been covered, its uncovered just as of yet.
WARR: Let’s hop into your career now. You are one of the few African-American voices here in Chicago. We have you and Laurence Holmes. So what do you think of the landscape of the African-American voice here in Chicago?
Hood: I just, I think it’s poor, I think the numbers are poor. There should be more than just me and Laurence holding it down in Chicago but I think the numbers — that it is only a couple of African-Americans that are doing sports talk is a microcosm of not just Chicago, but the country.
I have in my phone almost everybody that’s African-American that was a non-athlete that does sports talk and that’s a shame, just in my phone alone. I’ve mentioned in columns before about The Sports Bros. in Miami, they hold it down, they do a terrific job. The Rod Father, Rod Brooks in the Bay Area at KNBR, Carl Dukes in Atlanta, Jason Goff is in Atlanta and Steve Haywood in Milwaukee. These guys are in my phone and it is only a handful, a couple-full of guys that are non-athletes that are doing sports talk. It’s unfortunate.
I’m encouraged, though, that the numbers are going up slowly but I’d like to see a lot more, only because I’ve always believed that we bring a different perspective to the table. I think that after awhile — and again, it’s up to the program director to determine who he or she is comfortable with as far as what they want to air — but I just think that it becomes repetitious after a while you hear the same type of sports talk, you know?
I think that we as African-Americans or Latinos, we’re just as marketable as anybody else. I don’t think there is any question that our opinion is as valuable as anyone else’s. The thing is that some will look at it and they feel that African-Americans will apologize for athletes or won’t be as truthful about athletes of color. I’ve heard that in my career and my thought is that, and again I’m different than everyone else, but you know, you speak truth to power. What that means is that you say whatever that truth is, you know? If there’s issues going on and it’s pretty black-and-white and its easy for anyone to see then we can speak just like anybody else. My hope is that, and I am in I’m encouraged by this, I’m hoping that we see more of the numbers go up more this far as people that are in sports television and sports radio that are of color.
WARR: Are there any particular stories recently or at any point of your career where you and your background and your place as a rare African-American voice in this town really stood out in an constructive or profound way?
Hood: There have been a couple of occasions. I’ll speak of this — what happened to the Miami Dolphins, that situation with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. I spoke from my heart like I always do and sometimes people don’t like that. People would rather you lie to them than tell them truth.
I spoke my heart about that, about the word, the use of the of the N-word and I really put out there for everyone to know that if you’re African-American and you’re using that word and (you feel) it’s okay for others to use it then you’re confused. I put that out there, like 20 minutes, 25 minutes and I just laid out my whole thoughts about it. I didn’t use my race to bring up the topic, when I talk about what African-Americans bring up a different perspective on certain things, I thought that I could bring up a different perspective than everyone else.
Its nothing to say, “oh you can’t use that word…” and you just sweep it under the rug, I think there are different layers that some of color bring to topics such as Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. My whole thought was we as a people are a little bit confused about what you can say, what you can’t say, who can’t say certain words. I guess that would be an example of me bringing something up, of someone of my color to bring this up and be able to speak well about it and to speak thoroughly about it from the heart. Some don’t and I think I did. It’s all depends on who is doing the conversation.
I guess that’s what it comes down to. I’m not saying that my thoughts on it are better than anyone else’s, but what I am saying is that when someone of color brings up this kind of conversation it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I really don’t care about comfort-ability because if it has to be said then that’s what has to be said. I’ve always taken joy to be able to speak my mind because that’s how I was raised and even if it makes someone uncomfortable it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter.
WARR: You’re a big name here in Chicago as far as radio, if they know sports radio they know your name. You’re coming up on 10 years with ESPN after your time at The Score. Talk to us about the different culture and environment between The Score and ESPN, is it that different?
Hood: To me, being and working at both places for me its just guys talking sports, it never really changes. The only thing that is different from ESPN versus The Score is we were on 4949 W. Belmont (at The Score), we were on a rat trap, we were sharing studio space with WXRT. So its “love and peace, man” versus a bunch of animals — a bunch of guys eating fig newtons and hugging trees … and I love those guys at XRT, versus us at The Score at the time — a bunch of guys rough off the streets. Mike North was fresh off the street, fresh off the street. (Dan) Jiggetts was a professional, (Dan) McNeil, Boers, Tom Shaer was doing Channel 5 at the time, me…it was just a cluster of different personalities.
The only difference for me is that we were extremely competitive against ESPN, WMVP at the time, because we just wanted to win. Here it’s similar, this place loves to talk about sports internally, but for me, I just focus on my show and then leave, it’s kind of what I do, you stay out of trouble that way, you learn that in the business.
WARR: You wouldn’t say it is more corporate here?
It can be a madhouse here, too, absolutely. I don’t think it is much of a difference in that regard. Again, we’re talking about sports. Some of the same things here is some of the same things you will find at the other place too because we we are into sports and certain things are said and done. It’s kind of the same in that regard.
WARR: We know you work the UIC Flames men’s basketball. You’re not the play-by-play guy, right?
Hood: I am the pre and half-time host.
WARR: We thought you did the actual in-game stuff too?
Hood: It appears that way because I am just that professional looking (laughs), I dress like I am the play-by-play guy… just the pre and half guy right now.
WARR: How are you liking it?
Hood: I enjoy it, it is a different assignment for me. I have done almost everything in the business, I’ve done a lot of different things so doing pre and half-time is, my blood pressure is 120 over 80, although I root for (UIC coach) Howard (Moore). Moreso than the Flames, I root for Howard because he is a terrific guy. I grew up listening to UIC basketball back in the day, I can say I am a fan of the program as well.
The reason why my blood pressure is low is because I’m not talking about salary caps, trades and stuff like that. It’s just a bunch of kids, college kids trying to get to the next level, trying to help each other and that’s kind of cool, kind of like my days covering high school ball. Young guys trying to reach their goal.
WARR: Have you ever thought about branching out to more national or more college, in the city, or just branching out to do something else besides the radio, more color stuff, because you’re a fairly colorful person. You have a lot on your mind you want to say…
Hood: Yeah, that’s true, sometimes that’s a detriment, I guess.
No, I did Kennedy-King Statesmen basketball when I was at KKC, that was for five years even after I was done at KKC taking classes. You never say never, you always have an itch. If there is something that is available, it may be something I entertain.
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio, also follow Demonze on Twitter @Demonze1 and Kyle @Wrk_Wrt