This is one story that is EXTREMELY difficult to write. But it's a tribute that's worth telling.
On Tuesday, while many of us in the Cleveland sports journalism business were watching the Indians battle the White Sox on Opening Day at Progressive Field, we found out that Kendall Lewis had passed away. His nephew Benjamin confirmed the news on social media.
You might better know Kendall as 'The Big Sports Kahuna,' a nickname that was so appropriate. Kendall was larger than life, and we were all better for being a part of 'The BSK's' domain.
Lewis' voice was familiar to thousands of Cleveland sports fans, mainly during his seven year run at ESPN 850 WKNR radio in the early 2000s. He was Cleveland through and through.
"I'm just stunned tonight," said Kenny Roda, Lewis' former colleague at WKNR. "He was smart, funny, and caring. You just enjoyed being around him."
For just over two years, Lewis was teamed with Greg Brinda during WKNR's midday show. I can tell you from my years doing sports talk radio, generally when you mix two 'Alpha Dog' hosts together, it usually creates a gigantic mess. And at first, that was the case when 'The BSK' teamed with 'The Dean."
"I'm not sure he liked being paired with me at first," remembered Brinda. "There was tension and we really went after each other. But over time it really mellowed out and we got to know one another. We were two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT people, but we developed chemistry. As time went on, we could show up in the studio without having had any discussion and know EXACTLY what we wanted to talk about and how we would handle a topic."
The pair eventually were separated, first because Lewis became stricken with an illness, then because station management went in a different direction.
"I gotta tell you, people still come up to me and talk about our show," says Brinda. "So I guess we did something right when we were together. Unfortunately we never got to team up again, which is a shame because I think it would have been fun."
There was a time when WKNR was the only sports talk station in town. In the 90's and early 2000s, you would hear voices ranging from Geoff Sindelar and Bruce Drennan, to Lewis & Brinda, Roda, Bill Needle, Matt Underwood, Michael Reghi, Marc Kestecher, Pam Ward, and many more.
"That was a fabulous time to be in Cleveland," remembers Roda. We all liked and respected each other. I mean it was competitive...from trying to get the biggest scoop, to hitting softballs in a batting cage. Kendall never conceded anything, which you had to respect about him. He was maybe right, maybe wrong, but always a straight shooter."
"It was a great time to do this job," Roda continued. He is now afternoon drive host at WHBC radio in Canton after working for WKNR for 21 years.
That great time in sports talk radio was what inspired me, and many others, to get into the business.
"When I got to WKNR in the early 2000s, Kendall was an important part of my growth," says Daryl Ruiter, now Cleveland Browns beat reporter on 92.3 The Fan. "He treated me like a professional and I'll never forget that. 'The BSK" was the consumate professional."
Jason Gibbs has been at ESPN 850 WKNR since 2004 and has fond memories of working with Lewis. "We've lost not only an amazing entertainer, but one of the greatest guys you'd ever want to know," Gibbs told me. "It's truly a loss for our industry and all who listened to him."
What many of us remember about Kendall was his amazing knowledge of college football. "He knew more about the game than anyone I know of, " says Ruiter. "He knew about players you never heard of, which made him a pioneer in this area at NFL Draft time."
"You have to remember there was a time here in Cleveland when we weren't obsessed with the NFL Draft," says current ESPN 850 WKNR Program Director Aaron Goldhammer. "He knew more about the players than anyone in this area and was at the forefront of doing mock drafts. Now everyone does mocks, big boards, and such, but Kendall was way ahead of his time."
"Kendall's passion was football," Brinda recalls. "Just like ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., Kendall used to put together his big draft book, which you have to put a LOT of time into to do it right. His opinions often varied from 'the experts,' which made him unique."
Lewis played college football for Ohio University, but if you ever listened to his shows, you'd swear he went to Ohio State.
"He loved the Buckeyes," laughs Roda. "Even before I became an OSU honk, Kendall was out there singing the fight song on Fridays. That was must-listen radio."
Lewis also worked in television and was a still a presence on the airwaves in Cleveland via internet radio.
His passing has been felt by many in and out of the sportscasting business as judged by reaction on Twitter and other social media this evening.
"He was just a good man," says Brinda. "I'm deeply saddened by his passing."
I never got the chance to work with Kendall Lewis sadly. He was gone from WKNR when I first joined the station in 2008. But I can say without hesitation that I would not have gotten there without him. He made me want to be a part of sports talk radio.
For that, I'll always be grateful to 'The BSK."
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