There just isn’t enough time in the day to listen to all the great podcasts of the world. If you’re like most people, you have an hour or two at best at the gym or on your commute (or via headphone in one ear with a boring conference call in the other).
You need a go-to podcast to fill that time, one that always makes you feel better for having listened to it. If you’re a reasonably intelligent adult with even a passing interest in sports – i.e. everyone reading this – The Tony Kornheiser Show (Apple Podcast Link, Website) should be that for you. It began its current incarnation this past fall after a long run on local and national radio and is now recorded daily at CHATTER, a restaurant in Washington D.C. that Kornheiser co-owns.
I’ve been a longtime fan – as if you couldn’t tell from the intro – and I recently went to D.C. and sat in on an episode (above) to see how the magic was made. Beyond being one of the cooler mornings I’ve experienced, it was gratifying to see that as funny, nice, and interesting as everyone sounds on the show, they’re even more so in person, starting with Mr. Tony himself.
Here are ten things that set the show apart:
10. The Littles
In the lingo of the show, the Littles are the fans, and their loyalty and devotion to the show is impressive and inspiring. In addition to the thousands and thousands of people who listen every day without fail, there are hundreds of regular emailers from all around the world, dozens of regular musicians who submit songs (see below), events featuring appearances by Kornheiser and the other hosts, and meet-ups among Littles in locations near and far. They also have their own rallying cry – “La Cheeserie” – that they use to greet other Littles and guests of the show when they meet in public. Being a Little is far more than being a fan; it’s more like gaining thousands of new friends you never knew you had.
9. The Inside Jokes
Speaking of “La Cheeserie,” the term comes from the cheese counter at Calvert Woodley, a wine store in Washington D.C. that’s owned by the family of Golf Channel reporter Steve Sands, a frequent guest on the show. It just happened to catch on, becoming a rallying cry for the show, shouted everywhere from the (silent) first tee at the U.S. Open to interviews on MSNBC to Tim Kurkijan in the avocado section of Safeway.
It’s often shouted at guest hosts as they go about their lives in the “real world” and has become the secret password of the Littles fraternity. The show strikes a subtle balance, welcoming new listeners, while at the same time not going back in time to re-explain every inside joke. In fact, they take pride in not doing that, which is a big part of the allure of the show. You can find them all online anyway, so don’t be scared away!
8. The Variety
It sounds weird to say about a sports podcast, but you would probably enjoy it even if you weren’t really deep into sports. A passing interest will do for any smart adult who enjoys laughter. The majority of the guests and topics may be related to sports, but they also discuss politics, movies, television, current events, and the minutiae that makes up the daily existence of the genus mobilis, and is therefore imminently relatable. It’s smart, humorous conversation for adults, and the people doing the talking often matter more than the subject matter.
7. “Nigel” and Michael
Nigel – better known as Marc Sterne (above, right) to some – is the longtime producer/sidekick/news reader of The Tony Kornheiser Show. He books the guests, picks the news stories to read on the air, and generally holds the show together with his wry humor and witty repartee with the host. Michael is Michael Kornheiser, Tony’s son, and the show’s director of strategic planning. Basically the executive producer. In addition to handling sponsorships, merchandising, email, and music submissions, his chemistry with his dad gives the show some added warmth. He’s also a golf encyclopedia.
6. The Humor
While it isn’t a comedy podcast, there is a cheeky, subversive tone that underlies the show and results in several laugh out loud moments every episode. This has occasionally gotten him in trouble in the past (when weaselly reporters portray his tongue-in-cheek remarks as sober commentary to make him look bad) but any regular listener will tell you he isn’t offensive, just funny.
5. The Guests
The show (i.e. Tony) has many rules. One of the first? Don’t interview athletes. Interview smart sports writers who “get it,” writers who can elucidate on a variety of topics, parlaying back and forth with Kornheiser in a high-level game of intellectual badminton. Ask me about any sports writer/media personality in the country with any sort of national profile at all and I’ll tell you right away whether they “get it.” All of the regular guests do. Bob Ryan, Mike Freeman, Brian Windhorst, Pat Forde, Barry Svrluga, and Mike Wilbon are just a few examples, and so are non-sports guests like D.C. lawyer Abbe Lowell (“the smartest man in Washington”), TV writer/critic Andy Greenwald, and movie reviewer Ann Hornaday. The guests all elevate the show, which is far from an easy task.
4. The Music
What the listeners have done with music on this show is so insane – and insanely cool – that it’s hard to get across in words, because it seems farcical. They have parodied thousands of songs, turning them into tributes to Korheiser and the guests, hosts, themes, and inside jokes of the show, and there’s no other way to describe them besides brilliant. There’s a website. A festival. A bracket. A community of musicians. There could be a jukebox at CHATTER playing only the music from the show. It’s pretty insane. The following embed is just a small example of the genius that these listeners provide on a daily basis.
3. The Rotating Guest Hosts
While Kornheiser hosts every day and is clearly the piece de resistance of the entire operation, he has two rotating daily guest hosts who are integral to the program. Besides longtime lieutenant Gary Braun, most of the guest hosts are current or former Washington Post employees, many of whom worked at the paper with Kornheiser during its glory years. He also consistently features women in the guest chairs, a rarity in sports. The current rotation of guests includes, but is not limited to, Gary Braun, David Aldridge of TNT, Chris Cillizza of CNN, Tony’s former editor at the Washington Post Jeanne McManus, Liz Clarke of the Post, former Pentagon Press Secretary Torie Clarke, Leon Harris from News Channel 4 in D.C., Luke Russert (formerly of NBC News), and Howard Fineman from the Huffington Post.
2. The Chemistry
Podcasts are relatively new, so many hosts just haven’t put in the reps. It takes them a while to get good. Not true with Kornheiser and his rotating guest hosts: most of the core crew have been together in some form for at least a decade, some much longer. They had a well-oiled machine on the radio for years and hit the ground running in podcast format. They also genuinely enjoy each other’s company. If you were seated next to these people at a restaurant and happened to listen in on their conversation, you wouldn’t be able to stop listening. In fact, you would kill to join in. I promise. That sensation carries over to the show.
1. Mr. Tony
Tony Kornheiser is brilliant. Not at hitting a baseball, or writing software code, or trading stocks, but at talking. Leading an entertaining discussion among highly intelligent people about the stories of the day, with a focus, but far from a sole focus, on sports. He has a natural (and well-honed) gift for gab and puts in the hours, waking up well before dawn to catch up on the news and take notes (and generally be neurotic).
However, his best trait is his ability to bring listeners behind the scenes of what it’s like be Mr. Tony, with tales both grand (playing Augusta National) and trivial (his fight with the local gas company over a few dollars on a bill). It works for two reasons: he’s refreshingly honest about the day-to-day realities of being a privileged (sports) celebrity in America, and he never, ever takes it for granted. Kornheiser has a really interesting life and a unique ability to communicate how interesting it is. It provides a dynamic that just isn’t possible for the average person doing a podcast, therefore truly setting The Tony Kornheiser Show apart.