Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cheryl Raye-Stout

Cheryl Raye Stout has been a Chicago radio sports reporter for nearly 30 years, and has taught Radio Sportscasting and Ethics in Broadcasting at Columbia College for the past 14 years.

She currently works at WBEZ.

Rick: What's the origin of your passion for sports? What drew you into this world in the first place?

Cheryl: Growing up on the west side of Chicago, I was one of nine children from a blue collar family. We spent as much time outside as possible playing every sport. Coming from a large family, there wasn't money for going to games, so I listened on radio, watched games on TV, and played a lot outdoors. Our backyard was our softball diamond. On the church steps next door, we would play pinners. In the evening, the neighborhood played spud. We would also go to the park and play pickup games of any sport.

However, girls were not allowed to play Little League or any truly organized sports. The CPS system did have an after school program at my grammar school. We played a number of sports; my specialty was softball and track and field. In high school, Title IX came the year I graduated so there were no scholarships for sports yet. I was active at Austin High School playing basketball and volleyball.

The passion for sports came from my maternal grandfather, a native of Poland, who lived with us. He was a retired coal truck driver that delivered coal to both Wrigley and Comiskey Park, and he loved baseball. He taught me to love the game and its history. He would watch every game with his beer and non-filtered cigarettes. That became a bonding experience, not the drinking and the smoking, but sharing baseball.

The first time I stepped foot on Comiskey Park during my first radio assignment in 1982, I took in every moment -- the look of the dug-out, the grass on the field, the bats, the big beautiful baseball diamond and could only think about my grandfather. My uncles were big baseball fans too, so it was such a pleasure to take my favorite one to Wrigley and have his picture taken on the field. He was as giddy as a 10 year old. What's funny is that my parents didn’t care for sports at all.

Rick: It's hard to imagine a more male dominated world than the world of professional sports, but you've been thriving in that world for more than twenty years now as a sports reporter and producer. What have been some of the hurdles you've had to overcome?

Cheryl: I actually got my first credential in 1982, gulp! There were many obstacles; there were only a few women on the scene, Channel 2’s Jeanne Morris and Chicago Tribune’s Linda Kaye, but I was the one that ventured into the locker rooms and had to deal with some very unpleasant situations. (Photo: Cheryl with Bob Lanier and Doug Collins)

Additionally, many media members were not that kind. It seemed I was always being tested either for my knowledge or the ability to take the heat. One example, one of my colleagues asked me to call a local head coach to set up an interview. Easy, right? I called and his wife answered. She exploded on me since her husband liked to wander and thought I was one of his girlfriends. She said there wasn’t any women doing sports radio in Chicago. Pretty much told me I was a liar. Of course, my co-worker got a good laugh. It taught me a lesson: Be prepared. After that call, I always knew the wife’s or girlfriend’s name and would use it. They were important to deal with and I respected how tough their lives were being with a professional athlete.

There were times I would go in a locker room and hear nasty comments. When the Bears were in their hey-day during the ‘80s I could cover the games but was denied the open locker room. The first time I stepped in there several players came right up to my face and screamed obscenities. Media members smirked and the PR director ushered me out. I sat outside the door for a few seasons, and then a rookie QB changed it. Jim Harbaugh was brought to me for my usual outside the locker room interviews. He turned to the media relations person with him and asked why I was there and not with the rest of the media. He noted that I was already doing post game locker room interviews. The door opened and I finally went through.

There was another sports personality that I want to acknowledge; White Sox manager, Tony LaRussa. When I got my first credential, he escorted me to all the security people in front of the players and told them to respect my credential.

Too bad not everyone felt that way. Many times I had to figure a way to do what I needed to do without confrontation. Sometimes I used humor. Steve Lyons once struck a pose buck naked. He yelled my name; I turned my head, and then quickly turned back. The next day, I brought a bottle of sun tan lotion and put a note on it…”You need to take care of your tan lines.”

Rick: You're currently reporting sports for WBEZ. I know I've heard you on several different shows, and I've read your blog on their site. Talk a little about some of things you're doing for them these days...

Cheryl: Once AM1000 went under in its original all-sports format, I was re-thinking my career. Sports talk had become too vicious and unpleasant. Out of the blue, eleven years ago, Steve Edwards (photo) contacted me through my website. It was a gift. I had a 3 year old son, wanted to still do sports on the radio and raise him. WBEZ has allowed me that opportunity. I cover all the major sports in town and sometimes we do some other avenues. I am credentialed for all of the teams, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Sox, and Cubs. I cover the games and sometimes do feature interviews. Under the leadership of Justin Kaufmann, my role will be expanding with more blogging and in the studio with Steve Edwards Afternoon Shift show. To me it is such a professional radio station in these crazy media times. The various personnel there have always been respectful of my role.

Rick: We met about twenty years ago when you were with WMVP, but I already knew of your work before then when you were the producer of Chet Coppock's show at WMAQ. I believe he called you "the straw that stirs the drink." Chet's one of the most unique people in our business. How would you describe him to people that have never met him or heard his show?

Cheryl: Chet (photo) is the carnival barker of sports talk radio. He is an entertainer and can ask a question that can run on for five minutes. He should have copyrighted all his clich├ęs. He would introduce a guest saying, “Your dime, your dance floor.” Priceless. He loves his Chicago Bears and probably would love to be in a time machine to go back to that 1985 team. Chet also had strong ties to the WWF and relished the ringside of the wrestling world. He never cares or worries about anything he says about others. Most times, it gets him into hot water. He would verbally go after players, like Greg Luzinski or media people. That always made me very uncomfortable.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from your time producing his show?

Cheryl: Getting Chet out of the studio and putting him in the dugout at Comiskey Park and at the old Chicago Stadium. It enhanced the show. But Chet always had this need to eat food, usually popcorn. He would eat on the air and end up choking a few times.

We really had a large cache of guests. Eddie Einhorn, Mike Ditka, top notch college coaches, every Chicago Bear, Cubs and Sox managers, Bulls head coaches. It really was a destination for someone that had something to say in Chicago. When Lou Holtz got the job at Notre Dame, they called us up and asked to have him on the show.

Rick: You've been a sports reporter in Chicago during a few pretty exciting eras, but nothing was more exciting than that Bulls championship run in the 1990s. I know you had your share of scoops during that time. When you think back on that time, what are some of the stories that come to mind?

Cheryl: There are a couple involving Michael Jordan. After his first retirement, a friend of mine that had ties to both the Bulls and Sox told me that MJ was going to play baseball. Almost a year before, we had a pre-game conversation about baseball and he said he always wanted to play. When I was told Jordan’s desire to do it I went to work to get the story. After gathering information and enlisting Jim O’Donnell to work together to get it published, I broke the story on WMVP’s air with host Jay Mariotti. He told me it was baloney. Gratefully, Channel 2’s Tim Weigel ran the story and gave full credit. (Photo: Michael Jordan in White Sox uniform on the day of his baseball press conference)

Than less than two years later, I was at the Berto. Michael was gone, and so was the media, beat reporters got off the beat. I was the only one from the first championships still covering the team. I got word that Jordan had left spring training in Sarasota; I noticed the noise behind the curtain was familiar. I happened to be in contact with a player’s friend who confirmed that it was MJ. After practice, I waited until the handful of media finished and asked Phil Jackson and a player if Michael was at practice. They both confirmed it. As I was on the air, reporting the story, my beeper was going off. I ignored it and called who was beeping me later. It was the player’s friend who had MJ with him but had left since I didn’t call quickly enough.

Rick: Tell us about some of your brushes with sports greatness in other sports.

Cheryl: I was at the Italian-American Hall of Fame ceremony for Joe DiMaggio. He was surrounded by a slew of people when we met. I spent most of my time sitting next to and talking with Stan Musial. He was fabulous, kind and gracious.

Not long before he died I found Harold “Red” Grange in Florida…by using a phone book. He was frail but was terrific. It was one of those moments. My eyes welled up thinking about how important he was to the NFL.

Also, found Luke “Aches and Pains” Appling by calling information. He and I had a wonderful interview about Comiskey Park and his years with the Sox.

Chet had wonderful connections with many sports figures and I was fortunate to meet and spend time with them. One was former Bear great, Sid Luckman, gentle and generous.

A few months before his illness was revealed, I did a 45 minute interview with tennis great Arthur Ashe. One of the most intelligent men I ever met. We talked about apartheid and his quest to have the history of African-American sports figures come to light. Loved dealing with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Smart and funny.

I ghost wrote for Dick Vitale in the ‘80’s. We talked several times a week. He has two personas, his on air wild and crazy commentating, and his considerate and almost demur side off the air.

I am very fortunate to have met and or interviewed so many people. It’s a long list. (Photo: Cheryl in the Cubs dugout with Dusty Baker)

Rick: You also got a chance to meet and chat with a couple of movie stars covering this beat. Where and how did you meet John Cusack and Tom Hanks?

Cheryl: Both were at Sox Park, Cusack at the old one when he was preparing for “Eight Men Out”. He sat next to me for three days asking me questions. When he showed up at Wrigley the following year, he didn’t know me.

At new Comiskey, Tom Hanks was working on, “A League of Their Own”. He was on the infield during the Sox batting practice. Jeff Torborg was the manager and had his usual team meetings, and Tom couldn’t go in the locker room, so I thought, what the heck, and asked him to do an interview. He did. I didn’t want to overstep, so when I finished the interview, I thanked him and started to leave. He told me to stay and we continued talking.

There is one more person I met that was a nice highlight. I was standing behind the Cubs batting cage and some ladies came up to me. They asked me who I was, and what my job was. They were Hillary Clinton’s assistants. When I told them what I did, they said she would be interested in meeting me. She came to the press box, and I was called over and had a great chat with her.

Rick: And finally, if you could go back and re-live one sporting event that you've covered during your reporting career, which event would it be and why?

Cheryl: That is the hardest; I covered the Bears in Super Bowls, all six Bulls championships, Blackhawks and Sox titles. There is no bigger thrill than seeing the crowning of a team that you covered and knew from the time you were a kid. They each have a story and a great feeling. This may sound strange, but I would love to see any game regular season or playoff with Michael Jordan. Just to see him fly through the air, play defense, hit the winning shot like he did against Cleveland in 1990. I would pay to see the greatest players up close one more time.