Paul Finebaum is an American sports author, television and radio personality and former columnist based in Birmingham, Alabama. His primary focus is sports, particularly those in the Southeast. After many years as a reporter, columnist and sports-talk radio host in the Birmingham market, Fimebaum was hired by ESPN for its new SEC Network, and will produce a radio show out of the network’s home base in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Finebaum was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Paul attended the University of Tennessee, where he received a liberal arts degree in Political Science. He served as host of the Paul Finebaum Radio Network, whose flagship station was on WJOX-FM from 2:05-6pm CST. The show was syndicated in Alabama (27 stations), Mississippi (2 stations), Tennessee (3) and on single stations in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and also heard Sirius XM Radio (Channel 91).
He’s been a guest on television’s Larry King Live, CBS’ 60 Minutes, Nancy Grace, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, HBO and Tru TV.
Paul Finebaum arrived in Birmingham in 1980 and became a columnist and investigative reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald. Finebaum’s work has earned him over 250 national, regional and area sports writing awards, including his investigative stories on the recruitment of Alabama basketball player Buck Johnson. He also in 1993 broke the story of Antonio Langham, a University of Alabama football player who signed a contract with a sports agent while playing for the school, which led to NCAA probation for the school. He was also first to report the firing of Auburn University coach Terry Bowden in 1998. Finebaum joined the Mobile Press Register in 2001 where he wrote a twice-weekly (later weekly) column with the column syndicated to other newspapers. Finebaum discontinued the column in December 2010. On Sep 1, Finebaum returned to writing with his first column for Sports Illustrated. His weekly column appears every Thursday at SI.com. His Christmas Eve column on a radio caller from Iowa suffering from cerebral palsy was among the most critically acclaimed stories of his career.
Finebaum started his radio appearances in the mid-1980s by giving morning commentary on the Mark and Brian Radio Show on WAPI-FM (I-95). After starting his own afternoon radio show a few years later on WAPI-AM, his program quickly became the highest rated sport-talk show in Birmingham. In October 1993, Finebaum moved his sports-talk show to WERC. His show prospered immensely and in 2001 the show began syndication with affiliates across the southeast. It is now one of the highest-rated sports show in America.
The Paul Finebaum Radio Network, composed of Paul Finebaum, Network Director Pat Smith and Producer Kerry Adams was named in 2004 by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 12 sports radio shows in the United States. In January 2007, his radio show moved to WJOX.
Finebaum found himself embroiled at the center of one of biggest college sports stories in America in 2011 – the poisoning of the famous trees on Toomer’s Corner at Auburn University. The man charged called the Finebaum show, claiming to have poisoned the trees. The audio of the call was played on nearly every national radio show and television newscast in the nation. In the aftermath, Finebaum was featured on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, appeared on CNN, ESPN, MSNBC and several other networks. He also was blamed by many for the event including one caller saying “if anything else happens, there will be blood on your hands.” On April 21, Harvey Updyke appeared again on the Finebaum show, speaking publicly for the first time since the incident, breaking his long silence. The interview, perhaps the most listened to ever in the history of the Finebaum show, made national news, appearing in publications ranging from The New York Times to ESPN’s SportsCenter. Updyke ended the 45-minute interview with his signature Roll Damn Tide. Finebaum also had a leading role in ESPN’s critically acclaimed documentary Roll Tide/War Eagle. The producers used Finebaum and his program as the voice of the documentary, which debuted on November 8, 2011.
In late May, Finebaum received more national attention for his four-hour interview with Randy Owen, lead singer of the country band Alabama, raising awareness for victims of the April 27 tornadoes. Donna Francavilla described the moment in a recent article in the RTDNA (Radio television news directors association) magazine: “On the day the storm hit, Finebaum described the tornado as he watched it approach the big picture window in his studio. Since then, Finebaum hasn’t talked much about sports. Finebaum said, “On the day the Bama Rising concert was announced, we had (Alabama native country music star) Randy Owen in studio for the entire show, four hours, promoting the event, taking phone calls about the tornado. He ended up giving a mini-concert. (Citadel manager) Bill Thomas told me afterwards that we broke every rule in sports radio history; however, it was by far, the most memorable and meaningful program we have ever done – and the best. He sang many songs and naturally ended the show by singing an acoustic version of ‘My Home’s in Alabama’. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house or in cars across the listening audience. We have stayed with the story non-stop with the support of our partners at Sirius-XM.” In October, Mark Kelly wrote the cover story in Weld on Finebaum http://weldbham.com/blog/2011/10/18/the-listener-paul-finebaum, a piece many consider the most definitive and revealing of his career.
Finebaum’s show went off the air on WJOX temporarily on January 21, 2013 when his contract with Cumulus and WJOX expired. Finebaum’s future is unknown at the moment, although several published reports indicate that he will stay off the air until three months have elapsed since the expiration of his contract, since Cumulus have the contractual right during that time to match an offer from anyone else. The New Yorker piece said about Finebaum’s future: “As the S.E.C.’s fortunes have risen, so have Finebaum’s: his contract with WJOX ends in January, and his next move is the subject of considerable speculation. Earlier this year, a competing station in Birmingham began running ads intimating that Finebaum might move up the dial, as if he were a top quarterback considering a transfer. He has had talks with ESPN and CBS, about joining their national radio networks, and with SiriusXM, about moving permanently to satellite.”
While the countdown continued, the Birmingham News reported on March 27 that Finebaum agreed to a “high six-figure advance” with HarperCollins to write a book about the radio show. Bob Carlton reported, “Finebaum will receive an advance of more than $500,000, which is considered a major deal in the publishing world, according to a source. “No one speaks to SEC Nation – and Alabama fans in particular – with more passion, knowledge and humor than Paul Finebaum,” HarperCollins Senior Vice President and Executive Editor David Hirshey said. “We expect this book to occupy the same spot on the best-seller list that Alabama occupies in the BCS rankings – number one.” The Wall Street Journal reported on May 21 the advance was for $650,000.
On May 21, 2013, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that Finebaum had signed with ESPN to appear on its new SEC Network, and also host a daily radio show based out of Charlotte.
Finebaum’s television contributions have been numerous. In Birmingham he currently appears as a sports analyst for WBRC Fox 6. He was sports director for WIAT-TV from 1998 to 2002 and co-hosted individual shows on WVTM-TV NBC 13 and ABC 33/40. Recently he has been a frequent guest on ESPN’s Outside The Lines with Bob Ley commenting on national and regional stories.
In 2002, Paul was named by The Tennessean in Nashville as one of the Southeastern Conference’s Top Power Brokers. In July 2009, The Orlando Sentinel named Finebaum as one of the SEC’s 10 most powerful people. On January 11, 2011, CNBC’s Emmy-Award winning sports reporter, Darren Rovell wrote: “Back 2 back titles by Alabama & Auburn make Finebaum the most powerful small market sports media member in the nation.” Rovell added: “What makes Finebaum so good at what he does? He’s the best listener of any sports talk radio host.” In January 2012, The Bleacher Report named Finebaum one of the 25 Most Influential People in college football. He was one of only two members of the media listed, along with ESPN president John Skipper. In December 2012, Sports Illustrated, in its year-end review of sports media, listed Finebaum among the top 10 “national radio voices.” In February 2013, the regional college football website, BunnSports.com, in a ranking of CFB’s most influential follows on twitter, listed Finebaum at No. 1. bit.
In 2008, Columbia University named Finebaum’s Show as one of the winners of its annual ‘Let’s Do it Better! Workshop on Journalism, Race and Ethnicity. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the award singles out newspaper, broadcast and web reporting that fosters coherent, authentic coverage of race reporting. Finebaum was selected for providing a strong and sometimes controversial view on racial issues in sports through his multi-media contributions that include the “Paul Finebaum Radio Network,” his Web site, Finebaum.com and a twice-weekly syndicated sports column. In particular, Columbia cited a poignant show on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – which highlighted the slain Civil Rights leaders still strong connections with today’s sports stars – was among those submitted to the panel selecting the awards. Among Finebaum’s written works noted included a column in the Mobile Press-Register on the first two black coaches in the bowl, the admission of NBA star that he was gay, a column on the University of Alabama snubbing of Sylvester Croom to be the first black football head coach in the SEC and a tribute to the late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson.
Reeves Wiedeman profiled the radio host in a 5,000-word profile in the December 10, 2012 edition of The New Yorker titled King of the South. According to the Wiedeman, it was The New Yorker’s first major piece on a college football figure in more than 10 years. Several months later, on February 6, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, in a profile by writer Rachel Bachman, stated: “Paul Finebaum is not only one of the nation’s best-known sports-talk radio hosts. He is perhaps college football’s best-known voice since TV announcer Keith Jackson retired.” The Journal ended the story, referring to Finebaum as “the Oprah Winfrey of college football.” On March 6, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Dietsch unveiled a ranking of the 20 Most Powerful People in Sports Media nationally and Finebaum came in at No. 16. Finebaum and Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic from ESPN (at No. 14) were the only radio hosts mentioned on the list.
Finebaum’s books include his popular I Hate… series, including I Hate Notre Dame: 303 Reasons Why You Should, Too, and several dozen similarly titled works which attack most major college athletic programs.
Finebaum’s other books include The Worst of Paul Finebaum (ISBN 1881548120), a 1994 compilation of some of the newspaper columns he has written; and Finebaum Said (ISBN 1931656037), a 2001 collection of columns and interviews.
As a spoof, his friend and colleague Tommy Charles published I Hate Paul Finebaum: 303 Reasons Why You Should, Too in 1996. In 2010, a book written exclusively about the unique culture of the Finebaum Show. Great Call: Why The Finebaum Show Is America’s Barbershop, was penned by Author Tom Ward.
On his weekly show during the college football season, Finebaum has many weekly guests. Included is former University of Alabama head coach Gene Stallings, former Auburn University head coach Pat Dye, Barbara Dooley, wife of former University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley and mother of former University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News, Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN College GameDay, CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson and CBS Sports’s Tim Brando.
Leading up to the season, the show had a number of major head coaches on, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Florida’s Urban Meyer, Jacksonville’s Kerwin Bell, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and TCU’s Gary Patterson.