Today’s guest: @RyanMcGuffey
As a Production Assistant & Associate Producer at CSN Chicago, I have a lot of ambition. Working in the world of sports broadcasting, there is a lot of opportunity to tell stories and be a part of something memorable.
I have seen and worked with a lot of “names” in our industry, but what people do not realize is that there is always the “story behind the story.” It is not just about the people who bring you those features or the subjects that they are about. No, there are always those who bring you the moments that you did not or would not know even happened.
Enter Sr. Producer of Original Content at CSN: Ryan McGuffey.
“Guffman,” as I know him, has seen and done a lot in our business. He is the man behind “5 Outs,” “Believe: The Story of the 2005 White Sox,” and most recently: “Reign Men.”
You have seen him on television during Chicago White Sox broadcasts or on CSN news programs such as “In The Loop” & “In The Loop: Prime.”
You have heard him on several Chicago radio stations, sometimes as a host as he did with David Haugh on the “Kap & Haugh” show.
However, what stands out about The “Guffman” is that he does not take himself too seriously. Honestly, you probably would not have known about all he’s accomplished if I did not list it.
It is not something he boasts about. He is fortunate to have been a part of a lot of historic moments; however, it is the humble approach he takes when it comes to what he has done in this business.
“Never forget where you come from,” he always tells me. It is that honest approach that keeps McGuffey grounded. He never takes what he does for granted and it is that which motivates him to keep working hard and telling stories.
So how did we get here? Let’s hear from the man himself:
“When I was four or five-years old, I can remember broadcasting Nintendo games,” McGuffey said.
“When I was home, we had this projection-screen TV when I was a little kid. I remember we got it for the Super Bowl when the Bears were playing in 1986 and I thought we were like the richest family on the block, and we weren’t, but it had the slide bar for the volume on it and when I was at home at night and the Bulls were playing, I would run downstairs and turn all the lights off and slide the thing all the way off and then would do: ‘AT GUARD, FROM NORTH CAROLINA!’”
“It was in my blood, I don’t know why or how. My Mom & Dad weren’t big sports fans but it was always my passion for as long as I could remember. I was broadcasting the games, I played sports and from the time I was eight or nine-years old, the people I wanted to be were the people I saw on TV. It just stuck; I knew what I wanted to do all through high school and when I got to college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It’s very rare, I know that. When you’re 17 or 18- years-old, no one knows what they want to do… and I did.”
“Luckily, I just worked hard & I stayed with it. Like I’ve always told you: ‘You have to kick down your own door;’ and once you get in: keep kicking it down because I feel when you get in, it’s your responsibility to keep going… and here I am.”
Even though McGuffey’s journey started off as an eight-year-old kid, he continued to hone his skills throughout his growth in the world of sports.
While attending DePauw University, he was a three-year letterman for the DePauw Football team, a four-year letterman & two-time captain for the Track & Field team and also served as the Assistant Sports Director for WGRE Radio. He was also an active member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity.
“I found a place I was happy enough to call home,” McGuffey said. “I love DePauw; I loved everything it did for me. I continue to love it. I have a passion for that place because I feel like it was a huge inspiration for me being here today.”
“I try to give back to them and the students who reach out to me. I didn’t have all that necessarily with people reaching out back to me at the time. It’s just so valuable for kids, whether it’s DePauw, Illinois or Indiana, whatever it is… you still see people that have passion: that to me is the best part.”
After graduating from college in 2001, McGuffey was like most graduates when it came to finding the right gig after school. He worked with his family’s small business until one day he decided he had to take matters into his own hands. He was hired as a Production Assistant & Associate Producer with Fox Sports Net Chicago (where he interned in 1999).
“One day, I just called this phone number that I had,” McGuffey said. “I called this guy, a DePauw connection that was working at Fox Sports Net and he kind of wrote me off… and he told me as much because I didn’t keep in touch for a little while.”
“He gave me a guy’s phone number, a name & a phone number: Dan Lafferty. He was the Executive Producer and that was it. That was all he gave me. It was up to me to do something with that number. Keep in mind: it wasn’t like texting. E-mailing was an option… but from a computer, because cell phones were still really new. I didn’t have one in 2001. So I called the guy, every single day for 17 days… and he never picked up.”
“Every day, I left a message. Every day… and on the 17th day: he picked up. He said: ‘Hey, I’m Dan Lafferty.’ I froze because I didn’t expect him to pick up & before I could say my name, he said: ‘You’re Ryan McGuffey,’ and I’m like ‘Yea.’ He said ‘could you come in today at 3:00?’ and I was like: ‘Yes.’ I think I was in his office for maybe 10 minutes.”
From there, McGuffey was hired as a freelancer. He was allowed two days to train and was assured that if he caught on quickly; they would try to call him every day if they could. McGuffey proceeded to work 22 straight days after the meeting.
“It was persistence,” McGuffey said. “Like I said, when you get an opportunity, kick down the door. I got hired full-time three months later. I got laid off four months after that. After September 11th, there were huge layoffs. They let 100 people go and we had to stay here two weeks to get severance packages. I was devastated. I was 22-years-old and I just didn’t expect it. I was so happy to have this job.”
“It happened, and I got called into the same guy’s office. He said: ‘Look, they’re going to rehire like three people. Not for what we’re doing right now. I know it’s not what you want to be doing but if you want the job, you should consider it.”
McGuffey was convinced he was not going to take the job. He went home one day, however, and had a conversation with his mother. Not only did his mother encourage him to take the job, she raised a good point when it came to McGuffey’s dilemma: “Take the job, if you want to find another job afterwards, ok but stay on board.”
“It was a rough three years,” McGuffey said. “It was fine for like the first 15-18 months. Then, the last 18 months, it was rough. It was more like administrative, 9-5 stuff. Not that I don’t like 9-5 but it just wasn’t production.”
“So I would keep my nose in the production mess over here by helping out with ‘Pro Football Weekly’ while I was doing my normal job. I just needed to feed that fire. CSN came along in 2004 and I was right about at the end of my bridge. My bridge was almost up at the end of that other job. If CSN had been another year, I don’t know if I would’ve waited… but it all worked out.”
From there, McGuffey continued to hone his skills in all facets of the sports broadcasting field. He started at CSN as an Associate Producer for seven months before being promoted to Booking Producer in February 2005.
After working in that role for three years, he produced the popular “Monsters in the Morning” show, which was hosted by Mike North & Dan Jiggetts. He also served as head producer of “Chicago Tribune Live,” now known as “Sports Talk Live” on CSN.
McGuffey continued to pay his dues as a producer. He served as CSN’s Coordinating Producer for two years, a role in which he oversaw all of the daily content on the station.
In April 2013, McGuffey moved into the role he continues to have today at CSN: Sr. Producer of Original Content.
“I never stopped doing things on the side,” McGuffey said. “Because I love to be creative, I love to feed my own beast and that’s kind of how it all led to where I am at now. With Original Content, which I give Kevin Cross [CSN’s News Director] beyond so much credit because it’s truly what I feel I should be doing.”
“It took a long time. It took a lot of different paths and detours to get to a spot where I feel I truly am doing something with my talent that makes sense for it. You need time to figure out who you are; you need time to figure out if the career is right for you. It’s like any career: you have to have a lot of downs & you have to have some ups, then you have to sort through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”
“Luckily & fortunately, I have been able to do that. I don’t know what the future holds… but I like where it’s at right now.”
Original Content at CSN has an impressive library of content thus far:
- ‘5 Outs’ – The Story of the 2003 Cubs
- ‘Believe’ – The Story of the 2005 White Sox
- ‘Welcome to Cooperstown’ – Frank Thomas’ journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- ‘Going Home – Jose Abreu’ – Jose Abreu’s return to Cuba
- ‘Going Home – Joe Maddon’
- ‘Reign Men’ – The Story of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series (Cubs at Indians)
McGuffey is always one step ahead when it comes to his next feature.
He collaborates daily with his team which includes Cross, Sarah Lauch, Willie Parker & various talents at CSN. He makes it a point to always “tell the story behind the story.”
How did this event get to that point that’s being talked about nonstop? McGuffey always asks himself different questions when approaching his features & it frames the story structure. It’s a deliberate process & it is very detailed…
“In 2013, we did ‘5 Outs’ and it was really good,” McGuffey said. “I was excited. We told some stuff that had never been told… like players buying plane tickets home during the series. At the time, I was so excited about ‘Ok, we got Moises Alou.’ I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t care about how it looked, I didn’t care about where it was, and I didn’t care about what he had on.”
“It didn’t impact the show but it did impact maybe the look, whereas now, everything to me is thought out. I know we’re going to get the interview. I’m just confident. We’ll get Jason Heyward, what’s the room like? Is it going to be in this room? What time? What’s the day look like? What are our lights situations? Should we go to the room an hour, two hours early? That’s all a part of the content creation part.”
McGuffey focuses on what is not obvious. We all know the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. We all know the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. We all know about the Bulls & Blackhawks dynasties. But what are the stories behind them? What went on behind the scenes to get those teams to that point of accomplishment?
“I was at Game 7 (of the 2016 World Series) and I knew there was other stuff going on that needed to be told,” McGuffey said. “I watched Game 7 six or seven times before I did these interviews and I think the art and crafting process has changed the longer I’ve done this. Not just for what I do & we do, but for everybody.”
“If you look at [ESPN’s] 30 for 30 from where it started vs 30 for 30 now, it just destroys the original product… and that’s just because they are getting better. They’re putting more resources into it. That’s a good example too: that people want it. People want that stuff. They think about that ‘What if I told you…’”
“There is something. The Cubs didn’t just win because there was this rain delay. There was legitimate doubt and concern from the players. They felt like you did at home. I don’t think people thought about that. People didn’t think those guys felt the emotions that fans do, but it turns out they are human beings.”
“My goal is to humanize these guys… to realize: ‘Yea, he makes $25 million and we’re only sitting three feet from each other… but it’s just two guys talking.”
McGuffey’s story itself is “the story behind the story.” Yes, he’s accomplished a lot and continues to create and tell stories. He loves what he does and he is truly fortunate. But he never forgets what he had to go through and what journey he had to take to get to this point.
It all would not have happened if he didn’t call for 17 straight days about a job. If wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t take his mother’s advice. It wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t have to experience the lows of doing a job he didn’t want to do.
Hell, it wouldn’t have happened if the bridge didn’t stay strong for one last week…
McGuffey wants those to know the story is still being written, while also encouraging others to keep “kicking down that door.”
“There definitely is more,” McGuffey said. “I want to keep telling stories that haven’t been told or maybe some stories that have been told: but differently. I want to keep pushing the envelope… further & further, whether it’s here or down the line… wherever it is.”
“I want to raise the bar of expectation, not for those around me but for myself too. For my bosses, for the people all the ways up the ladder. For people who don’t even know me yet. Maybe I am a little more cognizant of my name now than I have been in the past… whereas, I want people to say: ‘Ryan McGuffey was involved in that.’”
“I have more confidence. There’s proof out there, so I should. That could sound arrogant and cocky but I think it’s more of a humbling process for me to get to that point. I want to keep doing Original Content, 100%. I do not want that to change. That passion is very much alive.”
What should all the aspiring producers do to get to this level, though?
“Test your limits,” McGuffey said. “Push yourself. Challenge yourself to do something that maybe you think you can’t do. Don’t just come in here and swipe in. Don’t come in the door to just be content. That’s probably the best way to say it.”
We’re already on our way…
Follow Ryan McGuffey on Twitter: @RyanMcGuffey
Follow me on Twitter: @SteveJohnson_12