Sports

Greg Papa speaks out on station change, covering the 49ers, leaving the Raiders

Greg Papa provides commentary on television before Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, June 14, 2015. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)
Greg Papa provides commentary on television before Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, June 14, 2015. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) Bay Area News Group

It has been an eventful year for veteran Bay Area sportscaster Greg Papa.

In January, he became the new radio play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco 49ers — a role he never envisioned while holding the same job for the Raiders from 1997 through the 2017 season.

Then, last month, he gave up his noon-time sports talk show on KMGZ (95.7 FM — The game) and jumped to KNBR (680-AM), the 49ers flagship station. Beginning Tuesday, July 16, Papa reunited with his previous KMGZ on-air partner, John Lund, to launch a program on KNBR’s 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. time slot.

Papa’s move triggered a substantial revamp at KNBR that included the departures of longtime fixtures Gary Radnich and Bob Fitzgerald. (Papa and Lund take over the time slot once ruled by Radnich).

His arrival at KNBR comes as the ratings battle between upstart KMGZ and the so-called “Sports Leader” intensifies. Papa’s former show ranked as the most popular on KMGZ’s roster and consistently beat KNBR’s offering in the time slot. Now, he faces off against his former colleagues.

We recently caught up with Papa to get his take on things. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity):

Q: You’ve done so many different things in your career that change must be old hat by now. But does this feel like a hard-and-fast fresh start?

A: I don’t really look at it as a fresh start, but a new beginning, a new chapter. When I took the 49ers job, the situation we had to work through was being on a station that isn’t the flagship station of the team. That was an important factor. I needed to be around the 49ers as much as possible. And the way to do that is to be on their flagship station.

Q: The overhaul at KNBR is pretty dramatic. It almost feels like an NBA team bringing in a big star and simultaneously trying to stay under the salary cap. Are you prepared to hear, or read, some criticism from some who believe this hire essentially forced out Radnich and Fitzgerald?

A: Well, the changes weren’t for financial reasons. They were all about having to create a time slot. … I work for myself, first of all, and try to meet the highest of standards. And then it’s also about the audience and how to please them, first and foremost. … As far as what’s being said by critics or on social media, I don’t have time for it. I just get on to the next task. I’m a grinder. I put my head down and get to work. I’m not Kevin Durant (who routinely claps back at critics). I’m more of a Klay (Thompson).

Q: Some people have seen an irony in this change at KNBR that has you coming in and Fitzgerald leaving. They point to how, in 1997, he replaced you on the Warriors TV broadcasts. (At the time Papa openly expressed resentment toward Fitzgerald and team ownership).

A: Oh, that was so, so long ago. Bob and I have both been through situations in our lives and changes over the years. We, of course, have worked together since then … That was not a factor at all in this. … My contract was coming up and I was a free agent. I wasn’t even certain, at first, that I wanted to do talk radio. But it does fit in (with the 49ers job). … There is also no animosity toward 95.7 at all. I had a good run with them and, like Durant, I gave them a (ratings) championship.

Q: And now you’re taking over a time slot long occupied by Radnich, who has been proclaimed by himself — and others — as “the man who built the station.”

A: I have tremendous respect for Gary and when we open the show on Tuesday, we’ll acknowledge him. He’s been very good to me over the years. We’re not close friends, but we’re certainly not enemies. … I admire his style and what he has accomplished in this market.

Q: It will be an adjustment for some KNBR listeners. What about you?

A: The biggest adjustment for me is going on at 10 a.m. instead of noon. As maniacally as I prepare, giving up those two hours is going to be tough, especially considering the quick turnaround I often have (from late-night TV work) and beginning that early.

Q: Do you intend to do anything differently with this show? Anything you hope will set it apart from previous iterations?

A: Not really. I expect it to be similar to the show we did before on 95.7. We’re going to have some fun and (the content) will basically spring from our personalities, our knowledge of sports and the respect we have for one another. We’ll feel things out a little bit and see how things go. KNBR is somewhat different than 95.7.

Q: In what way?

A: Well, 95.7 is more of the up-and-comer and in that position you’re more inclined to push it a bit. You’re trying to make your mark. You’re trying to take down the champ, so you’ve got to throw more haymakers. … But, really, that’s the stuff the (station) bosses worry about. I just go to work and do my thing.

Q: In Radnich’s final days at KNBR, his longtime partner, Larry Krueger, heralded your arrival and proclaimed that you will “put the other guys out of business.” It seemed an odd thing to say and places some pressure on your shoulders. How does that make you feel?

A: I don’t think like that; 95.7 expects to retain the Warriors (broadcasts), so they’re not going out of business. I’m sure that, as a business model, (KNBR executives) looked at the one time slot 95.7 was consistently winning and they hope to flip it. … But those are my friends over there. I don’t want them to go out of business.

Q: With your new show, you’re reuniting with John Lund. What makes him such a good partner for you?

A: First off, he has a tremendous work ethic. I’ve always been impressed by people who work hard, in every walk of life. Secondly, he’s John Stockton — the perfect point guard. He has an amazing ability to read me. He knows what I like, what I dislike, what I want to talk about and how to set me up. I respect his opinions and I respect him as a person. We also have similar interests in music, movies and lifestyle … He’s just a plus-plus-plus person.

Q: What do you hear from Raiders fans these days? Sentiments of nostalgia — or bitterness?

A: I have felt nothing but love and admiration from Raider Nation and the feeling is mutual. … I’m not a spiteful person. I spent 21 years doing Raiders games and for many young fans, I was their liaison to the team. In those early years, there were a lot of (TV) blackouts so they built a connection to the Raiders through radio.

I’m sure there are some fans who are glad I’m gone and some who don’t like where I’ve landed. But this is my job and it’s the way the business works. I’m fortunate that the change didn’t force me to pick up and move my family. … And, really, it seems to have all worked out for the best, now that the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas.

Q: And what about 49ers fans? Do you feel like you’re being embraced by them – or is it still an ongoing process?

A: When I switched to the Giants from the A’s (on television in 2004), I felt some uneasiness. I wasn’t as comfortable. There was a little more apprehension. With this switch, I don’t sense it. I was fortunate to have been around Levi’s Stadium (for TV pre- and post-game shows) last season. I’ve heard some good-natured ribbing from a few fans: “Oh, you’re finally in the NFL.” … Or “We’ve got more trophies than them.” But not one person has looked me in the eye and said, “Papa, you suck. Go back to the Raiders.”

I’ve not felt any ill will. I’m sure there’s some out there on the message boards. But I’ve worked my ass off and I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been going into a season.

Q: Let’s put you on the spot: Tell us what the records will be this season for the 49ers and Raiders.

A: Oh, wow. I’d need to deeply analyze things to give you an informed answer. But off the top of my head, the 49ers will go 10-6 and the Raiders 6-10. If (quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo plays all 16 games, I think the 49ers can win 10, but they’ve got a really tough schedule. … (Raiders coach) Jon Gruden can do better (than 6-10), but he’s got a lot of moving parts there.

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