This is part of our series of interviews with important voices in the college football media. Paul Finebaum is the preeminent media voice in Alabama with a career that has spanned newspapers to talk radio. You can read earlier installments of this series including Finebaum’s thoughts on how reporters misuse Twitter.
In this installment of our Q&A with Finebaum, we find out about his early career, how Alabama football coach Ray Perkins had Finebaum fired from WERC and a memorable feud with radio personality Tommy Charles.
Q: What year did you arrive in Birmingham to work with the Post-Herald?
Q: What beat was your first?
Finebaum: “Interestingly, I covered Auburn, briefly. I covered Auburn right as Pat Dye was arriving. We had a very strange structure down there. This was before the beat system. What ended up happening was that the two people who mainly covered college football, Bill Lumpkin and myself, ended up covering both beats together. We would rotate. It was really to my benefit. I ended up covering both beats for a couple of years. Then the beat system arrived and I ended up becoming a columnist.”
Q: What year did you begin writing a column?
“I started in August 1983, right after Coach Bryant retired and died.”
Q: When did you start work on sports talk radio?
“I dabbled with it for a couple years doing various things with Mark & Brian. The actual show didn’t start until 1989.”
Q: What radio station? Was it WAPI?
“I started at API. I was there a couple of years. Then in 1993, went to WERC.”
Q: Wasn’t there a conflict with then Alabama football coach Ray Perkins?
“I was just getting going. I had a once a week show. Eli Gold at the time was doing NASCAR every Tuesday night and he needed someone to fill in for him when he was getting ready for the NASCAR show. I did that show for a year, once a week. Then Perkins got me fired.
“That was at ERC believe it or not. I forgot to mention that because it was just a once a week show.
“It was in 1984. The show was on 5-7 (p.m.) in 1984. It preceded his (Perkins’) call-in show. The callers, it just blended into his show. That was the year they had the first losing season in 25 years. He finally told the station, ‘You either dump him or we are moving Alabama football.’
“I don’t think that was a difficult choice.”
“I went from there to API and that is where I started doing Mark & Brian. That eventually led to a show I did on Saturday morning with John Forney, which eventually led to the nighttime show with (Bob) Lochamy”
Q: About that “fight” with Tommy Charles, how did you guys come up with that “hoax” and were you surprised that it made the papers?
Finebaum: “It was a feud that was all imaginary. I actually liked him a lot. I walked in there one day, the general manager was in there and Tommy was in there. It was in the mid-90s. I really don’t know who suggested it first. I think somebody said, ‘Hey, why don’t we let Tommy start the show off and act like we got into it.’
“So, the general manager and I went into the conference room and put it on (the radio). And Tommy, we didn’t really tell him what to say, but you didn’t really need to tell Tommy what to say.
“Tommy said, ‘I have to tell you that Paul won’t be here today. Paul won’t be here for awhile. It is pretty embarrassing. He kind of mouthed off at me in the parking lot, and I shouldn’t have done it and it wasn’t even hardly a punch. I kind of pulled my punch. He went down and wouldn’t get up. Had to call his wife and take him to the hospital.’
“Then about two minutes later, a guy called in and said, ‘I’m at the emergency room.’ And we are sitting there listening to this thinking it is unbelievable. It was War of the Worlds. After about an hour, I said, ‘There is no reason to go in there now.’ So, I went home.
“I’ll never forget this. At 7 o’clock, I got a call from Mike Royer, who said, ‘Paul, I’m really sorry about you getting punched out.’ I said, ‘Well Mike, I really didn’t.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry about that, but I need to get a comment.’ I said, ‘I can’t.’
“The the paper picked it up, and the newspaper editor in there gave a statement that basically said, ‘If you read something in the newspaper it is legitimate.’
“It became one of those deals that I could never outlive. At Tommy’s funeral, the minister said, ‘In visiting with Tommy’s kids, he would have to say that one of Tommy’s proudest moments was kicking Paul Finebaum’s ass.’ I had people who would come up to me for months and say they were really sorry about that.”
This is the final installment in our Q&A with Finebaum. In previous installments we covered the state of Alabama football among other topics.