Bill Riley is local sports radio’s iron man
By Scott D. Pierce
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 10 2013 09:42AM
Balancing nine jobs — including being the voice of Real Salt Lake, Ute football and Ute basketball — doesn’t seem to faze Bill Riley. His demanding schedule doesn’t threaten his health.
Except for that time in 2011 when Riley and his soccer compatriot, Brian Dunseth, were in Costa Rica calling an RSL-Saprissa game in the CONCACAF Champions league — in an open press box with no security in sight.
When Riley reacted loudly to the goal that eliminated the home team, "a group of five guys below us turn around and start screaming at us," he said. "Not like drunk heckling. Like — we’re going to come get you. And they could have come up and done whatever."
The men waited for Riley and Dunseth for close to a half hour until security finally cleared the stadium, but it was still a bit nerve-wracking because "they could have been waiting on one of the many ramps we had to take to get out," Riley said. "We were nervous until we got to ground level and ran across the field to the bus."
Good thing he survived, because it might have taken two or three people to replace him. Riley just might be the busiest sportscaster in town.
In addition to his play-by-play duties, he hosts a weekday sports talk radio show on ESPN 700, where he’s the program director. He hosts Kyle Whittingham’s, Larry Krystkowiak’s and Jason Kreis’ coach’s show. He’s one of the hosts of "Real Sports Live," KTVX-Channel 4’s new Sunday night RSL show.
And he’s simulcasting most RSL games on radio and TV.
"I’m really good at multi-tasking," Riley said. "And, luckily, I’m a pretty organized, schedule-driven person."
He plans his day "almost in hourly segments" revolving around the 2-6 p.m. "Bill and Hans" radio show.
"Watching him work is pretty amazing," said Hans Olsen.
"Honestly, I don’t know how he does it," said Trey Fitz-Gerald, RSL’s vice president of media and communications. "He does it all for us and he makes it look easy."
This week is pretty typical. In addition to his daytime duties, Riley will be in Seattle on Friday night to call the RSL-Sounders game, returning the next morning to get ready for Utah’s Pac-12 opener against Oregon State on Saturday night.
The one thing Riley can’t do, however, is be in two places in once, so he’ll miss the Sept. 21 RSL-San Jose game to call the Utah-BYU game, and he’ll miss the RSL-Portland game on Oct. 19 to call Utah-Arizona.
"If I could be both places at once, I would," Riles said. "The hard part is the preparation, and we’ve got this amazing thing called the Internet that helps with that. There’s long hours, but everybody has jobs with long hours and days.
"I’ve got the best of all worlds. My friends joke with me that I won the job lottery."
Riley paid his dues at small-market radio stations in Missouri and Nebraska where he worked "10-hour days doing sales and farm reports and a DJ shift and covering county fairs and school board meetings" just so he could do a five-minute sports update in the afternoon, Riley said.
Then he’d be off to a high school to do four games (boys and girls, varsity and JV) "for a $5 meal allotment so I could go to McDonald’s after the games."
From there, he was off to Jacksonville, Fla., where he hosted a morning radio show, called Jacksonville U. football, basketball and baseball and hosted pregame and postgame shows for the NFL Jaguars.
Riley came to Utah in 2001 to work at KSL; he moved to KALL (now ESPN 700) in October 2004.
"I loved my time at KSL, but [KALL] made me a great offer I couldn’t refuse," he said. "So one week I was doing the Gary Crowton coach’s show — the next week I was doing the Urban Meyer coach’s show."
He jumped from BYU football at its modern-day nadir to Utah football just as it hit the bigtime, winning two BCS bowls and joining the Pac-12.
(He called Utah football and basketball in 2006-07, and returned to that in 2010.)
But he was also the guy behind the mic when the Ute basketball team went 6-25 two years ago. He was the guy behind the mic when RSL went 5-22-5 its first season and 21-50-23 its first three seasons.
"That’s hard, but it’s part of the job," Riley said. "There are very few guys who are lucky enough to have nothing but great seasons to call."
Riley had plenty of experience calling football and basketball, but there was a "steep learning curve" for a guy who played rec soccer as a kid but hadn’t paid much attention to Major League Soccer until 2004, when Dave Checketts announced he was bringing a team to Utah.
"Every sport has its own feel and cadence," he said. "Football in unique because of the start-and-stop nature of it. Basketball, it’s nonstop. The action takes care of itself.
"Soccer is unique. It probably took me that first year of doing the game to get my rhythm and get my feel."
He’s quick to credit RSL management, producers and his analyst partners, including Dunseth.
"When you have a good partner to work with and you’ve worked with them for a while, it makes the chemistry in the broadcast so much better," Riley said.
Regardless of the sport, Riley is the hometown sportscaster who’s not a homer.
"My mantra has always been that I want somebody tuning in to the game not to have a real good idea of which side I’m broadcasting for at least five minutes," Riley said. "I feel like if I do that, I’m really doing my job well."
Sure, he’ll get emotional and yell when RSL scores a goal or the Utes score a touchdown, "but it doesn’t sound like a funeral when the other team scores," he said. "I got pretty excited the other night when Utah State scored, too. That’s just my style."
It’s a style that serves listeners well year-round. The MLS season overlaps the college football season; which overlaps the college basketball season; which overlaps the MLS season.
All while doing a radio show five days a week.
"I never really have a down time," Riley said. "But football is 12 games. Basketball is a bit of a grind, but it’s usually a Thursday-Saturday. And RSL is a long season but, for the most part, it’s once a week.
"Hey, I’m not digging ditches. And if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be home watching the games on TV."