Cesmat’s voice continues to resonate
By JIM TAL EVANS
By any standard, sports broadcaster Brad Cesmat has enjoyed a productive, sustained and enviable career.
His accomplishments are too numerous to fully detail here but during his lengthy time behind the microphone, the 55-year-old has been a driving force in two major markets, has worked alongside some celebrated and iconic names and has done so with an easygoing and relatable style that has helped make him an unqualified success.
Think about any role that a sportscaster can occupy and Cesmat has most likely been there and done that. From skillful studio work, to estimable play-by-play, to pre and postgame duties, to handling matters on a sideline, Cesmat has demonstrated a versatility that has shown he can juggle multiple tasks with great professionalism not to mention aplomb.
And just think, Valley Center can justifiably claim him as one of its own. That’s right, Cesmat put down some deep roots hereabouts from the time of his birth until he turned 19. Living on Cobb Road and growing up on a 2 ½ acre parcel with his mother and two brothers, Cesmat remembers “doing everything” including riding horses and firing off pellet guns.
From the time of his youth, sports always played a big part in Cesmat’s life whether he was participating in Little League for Parsons’ Pirates, Pop Warner football or getting involved with both track and basketball at VC Middle School. And because of his burgeoning height that would eventually top out at a whopping 6-8, it was natural that his primary focus would turn to hoops.
Eventually, he decided to cast his lot with the Escondido High Cougars at the start of his sophomore year. As to why he chose the Cougars, Cesmat playfully kids “because they paid more.” But seriously, the real reasons for his Esco preference were because it was a good fit, close friends from church were attending there and Cesmat was very comfortable with Mike Williams, the head b-ball coach.
Though not the greatest of jumpers, Cesmat was nonetheless a keen student of basketball who possessed an abiding love for the sport. He also knew how to use his size to genuine effect while averaging around 12 points and 10 rebounds during his final two seasons at Esco. In fact, Cesmat was deemed worthy enough to earn preseason All-American recognition from the highly esteemed Street and Smith’s Magazine prior to his senior campaign.
But because he grew so fast, he developed ankle issues that greatly impacted him and helped to short-circuit his playing days. “In the long run, it just wasn’t meant to be,” admits Cesmat. “I just couldn’t stay all that healthy.” But among the memories that he carried with him was once having a crushing on-court collision with Oceanside’s Junior Seau, who would go on to renown as a football standout with both USC and the San Diego Chargers. And in a rather ironic twist, those two combatants would one day team up as a broadcasting tandem.
He probably couldn’t have known it then, but it was his exposure to a speech class at Esco and its encouraging teacher Bob Johnson that was arguably the genesis for Cesmat’s broadcast destiny. Johnson told him he possessed an appealing personality and a real gift for adlibbing. Brad would get his first taste behind a mic when he began doing some junior varsity PA work for the Cougars.
From there, Cesmat moved onto Palomar College where he immediately became the sports director for the campus radio station and a virtual jack of all trades. Whether it was selling air time, reaching out to the community, doing engineering and DJ duties or delivering play-by-play of football, basketball, baseball and softball, Cesmat was simply the guy. He also had an influential and supportive booster in teacher Russ Jackson who remains a presence in Cesmat’s life to this day.
Cesmat’s next stop on his broadcasting journey came as an intern at KVSD, a North County station located in Vista. At that AM station, Cesmat honed his overall versatility as a show producer and technical director for the accomplished and sometimes combative sports host Jerry Gross. Cesmat also logged some on-air time when given the opportunity.
In 1987, a recent transplant from Arizona named Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton—who would go on to become one of the foremost sports talk show hosts in America, became a major factor in Cesmat’s life. Hamilton, who was just beginning his memorable run at XTRA (690), reached out to Cesmat to see if he might hop aboard as Hamilton’s right-hand man. “It was a golden ticket opportunity for a 22-year old broadcaster,” admits Cesmat. Nonetheless, he still wanted to confer with his mentor Jackson and get his feedback concerning this intriguing offer. “I went to see Russ and he said, ‘Brad you’ve got to take this chance. You can do it.’ Then, he practically booted me out the door.”
In its early iteration, XTRA (50,000 watts and based out of Tijuana) was an eclectic spot on the dial that at various times showcased widely disparate personas like Wolfman Jack and Russ Limbaugh. Cesmat remembers a chance encounter with the Wolfman who simply advised him, “Just be Brad, baby.”
Ultimately, 690 turned to an all-sports emphasis and started building its signature format. That’s when the station really began to find its legs and generate considerable buzz. And it was Hamilton and Cesmat who were the ones right there from the start — the founding fathers if you will.
Cesmat was destined to stay with XTRA for a memorable five years that highlighted his wide-ranging talents. And my oh my, what an array of recognizable names he ended up associating with in one way or another!
In October of 1990, Cesmat joined forces for an afternoon program with the gifted Steve Hartman, who’s still making noise as a top-notch voice at Fox Sports Radio. Cesmat would then later link up with former baseball star Steve Garvey for a morning gig.
With a pleasant and conversational voice that connects and armed with a deep reservoir of sports knowledge, Cesmat was an amiable in-studio personality who appealed to a cross section of listeners.
However, he yearned to expand his horizons and test himself. That led to a variety of roles, including filing feature stories, becoming the voice of San Diego State football and basketball and doing pre and post-game shows on the Chargers’ broadcasts. Among those he teamed up with during this time were SDSU and Padre icon Tony Gwynn on Aztec hoops and local television mainstay Jim Laslavic while on the Bolts’ beat.
Those were heady days for Cesmat—not only because of the sizeable contribution he was making to the station’s success but because of all the signature talent that was riding along with the 690 Express.
In addition to Hamilton and Hartman, another mouthpiece who made a huge impact at the station was a young Jim Rome, who would go on to considerable fame and has become a sort of cult figure in the radio industry. There was the one-of-a-kind “Philly” Billy Werndl, an old school sort whose East Coast personality offered an appealing contrast to that of his “Loose Cannons” partner Hartman. Werndl’s predecessor as Hartman’s sidekick was none other than Chet Forte, better known as the director who transformed Monday Night Football into a national institution.
The folksy and beloved John “Coach” Kentera became a welcomed friend at XTRA while the collaboration of John Ireland (currently the L.A. Lakers’ radio voice) and Steve Mason made for another entertaining pairing.
What made XTRA such a phenomenon was its blend of talent and vast array of styles and personalities. “Everyone was unique and programmed in their own way,” Cesmat explains. “Though we were all parts of the puzzle, we were so diverse. It was so different than anything else that was on the air. Our goal was to do something special.”
What’s more, the work ethic at 690 was unmatched with the on-air crew passionately driven to make a name for themselves. Long hours, attention to detail and an extraordinary commitment to prep work became staples at the station. “Lee really put in the time and I’m not sure I’ve seen anybody work harder on his craft than Rome did,” says Cesmat. “But I like to think that we all pushed ourselves to new heights. We were never satisfied. What made that environment so great was that we really motivated one another to become as good as we could be.”
But as much as he reveled in being a linchpin asset at XTRA, when an opportunity presented itself to spread his wings further and be a force elsewhere, Cesmat took a leap of faith and shifted his talents to KTAR Radio in Phoenix, the flagship station of the basketball Suns.
The fact that the Phoenix market was “busy and vibrant” with a multitude of sports to cover made Cesmat’s decision to relocate easier to justify. In addition to the NFL, MLB, and NBA, there was the rowdiest of PGA stops, a premier event in college football’s Fiesta Bowl and lots of college to cover with Arizona State University and the U of A among others.
Cesmat speaks fondly of his notable 10-year stay at KTAR where he not only carved out a niche but became an integral part of the community’s media fabric. His duties saw him do a three-hour sports talk show at night, author morning sports updates and demonstrate his chops while hosting pre and postgame shows for the Suns. His association with the Suns also brought him into contact with notable basketball personalities like acclaimed hoop executive/maven Jerry Colangelo as well as the charismatic and always opinionated Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. “Jerry really became a mentor of mine and Charles has developed into being a good friend,” Cesmat says.
From there, Cesmat undertook another lengthy gig, on this occasion as the sports anchor at KTVK Channel 3. “It was a good learning experience,” relates Cesmat. But as this nine-year run gradually unfolded, he could see a change taking place that was hard to embrace. “Sports on local TV started to get marginalized,” he informs. “The time you had on air was eventually cut down to about a minute. And sometimes you’d sit around the station for up to five hours waiting to go on with not a lot to do.”
So for a go-getter like Cesmat who prides himself on chasing down stories, not taking days off and never staying cloistered behind a mic, his next challenge had to be a highly stimulating one.
Allowing his entrepreneur spirit and considerable experience to come to the fore, Cesmat hit upon his own concept of how to present sports. Propelled by a heavy local emphasis, his vision manifested itself into what became Sports360AZ.com., a neat and well-conceived multi-platform site that launched in September of 2011 and that by any measure has grown into an unqualified success.
Loaded with plenty of timely feature content, podcasts and blogs among other items of interest, Sports360AZ does get into regional/national topics but drilling down on the pro, college and prep scene in both Phoenix and across the Grand Canyon State is its bailiwick. “Finding ways to localize sports is right in my wheelhouse,” says Cesmat. “I’ve found that when you localize things, you’re really onto something. I think we found some soft spots that weren’t being covered and took advantage of that.”
Cesmat is also a huge advocate of advancing stories that might be unknown to the general public. “Tell me something about a subject or someone that people generally don’t know,” is an angle that Cesmat considers to be a winning formula.
It comes as no surprise that the super engaged Cesmat has his fingerprints are all over this appealing enterprise. Not only does he have a podcast that can be heard between 10 a.m. and noon, but Cesmat contributes a quick-hitting blog entitled Three Dot Thoughts as well numerous articles. As befitting an intimately involved CEO/Founder, Cesmat’s presence looms large.
And don’t think for a moment think that he has abandoned the television side of things. His Brad Cesmat Football AZ is a weekly program courtesy of Fox Sports Arizona that can be seen across the country via Hulu, DIRECTV and other streaming devices.
What’s been told up to this point doesn’t even come close to summarizing the Cesmat saga. Other points worthy of note include his having worked alongside the colorful UCLA great Bill Walton on basketball broadcasts, manning a radio booth with baseball legend Joe Garagiola during an 80-game stint covering the Arizona Diamondbacks as well as sharing his considerable insights with a younger generation as an adjunct professor at ASU.
In addition, Cesmat has fostered a meaningful personal and professional relationship with writer extraordinaire Peter King, considered to be the go-to source for all things NFL. He has also sat down for interviews with mega celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Will Smith. Hell, he even spent some time with actors Matt Damon and Christian Bale on the set of their recent racing movie, “Ford and Ferrari.”
Along the way, Cesmat has been blessed to have had a wonderfully supportive wife of 31 years who not only gave him four beloved children but truly sacrificed so that he could “chase my dream.” And his need to give back has been reflected in countless ways such as his longtime involvement with the Salvation Army.
When you listen to the immensely likable Cesmat, you can’t help but be regaled by all the fascinating anecdotal information he willingly shares. And if he hasn’t done so already, Cesmat should give serious consideration to someday penning his memoirs. Given all the compelling experiences he’s lived, the intriguing personalities he’s encountered and the way in which the growing boy from rural Valley Center has racked up some remarkable achievements, it would make for one absorbing read.
But Cesmat gives the impression he isn’t anywhere near the end of the line. Tellingly, he exhibits a strong desire to remain a viable and positive force in today’s ultra-competitive sports media market. For the veteran broadcaster/writer, there’s plenty of work yet to do and miles to go before he sleeps. Indeed, Brad Cesmat still projects a voice that not only continues to resonate today but should do so for many years to come.