Asheville, North Carolina lost a good man and a great friend Thursday with the death of longtime radio personality Pat Ryan. Pat had been struggling with colon cancer for the past four years, going in and out of treatment while enduring the ordeals that often come with that.
To sum up Pat in a sentence, he was a friend to all who met him. Pat would often take the contributors to the WISE Guys radio show out for lunch to show his gratitude. I often joked it was like eating with the mayor. He always had warm greetings for people he knew (or just met) and so many would come over to say hello, whether they were friends or fans. Pat would always make sure to introduce those he was with as well, making sure no one was left out of the conversation.
That was pretty much Pat’s philosophy as a radio host too. No one was left out. Pat hosted a sports talk show and that meant sometimes talking about national stories and topics. But he knew it was a local show. The WISE Guys could offer the audience something that ESPN Radio or Fox Sports Radio syndicated programming couldn’t.
Local high school and college coaches across Western North Carolina were a big part of the show, many of whom became friends. Current and former athletes, along with local sports reporters were featured as well. UNC Asheville, Western Carolina, Owen High School, A.C. Reynolds, Asheville High. And not just football and basketball coaches. Soccer, baseball, swimming, track, lacrosse, boys and girls sports, were also highlighted. When Asheville had a roller derby team, players appeared on the show.
Pat didn’t just feature sports either. Charities and local fundraisers had an opportunity to reach a wider group of potential donors on the air. Listeners got to hear what was going on locally in entertainment, events, and business with writers like Ashvegas‘s Jason Sandford and Alli Marshall of Mountain Xpress. The WISE Guys wasn’t just a sports show; it was a show for Asheville. But out-of-towners tuning in could get a feel for what was happening in town too.
I was lucky to be a (very) small part of Pat’s show — and “merry band of contributors” circle — for the past nine years. Anybody who’s stopped by this site or my fledgling new venture, Bowls Media, knows that my appearances on WISE Sports Radio are a big part of the content here. Hell, while most of my writing time and energy was devoted to work at Awful Announcing or Barrett Sports Media, those audio clips kept the lights on here. My last appearance — which unfortunately turned out to be my last conversation with Pat — was Monday, Nov. 7.
Please excuse me as I commit a frequent pet peeve of mine. I’m sometimes annoyed when people talk about and pay tribute to someone who’s passed away by talking more about themselves. But maybe I should be more understanding of that. After all, if you’re sharing memories, you often play a role in those, right?
I knew of Pat Ryan before moving to Asheville 12 years ago. Knowing I was relocating, I tried to get an idea of the area by reading local publications like Mountain Xpress, the Asheville Citizen-Times, and Ashvegas.
Ashvegas is where I learned that Pat had been let go by Asheville Radio Group, which sparked outrage on social and online media. By the time I moved down here, Pat was back on the radio, working out an arrangement to buy time on the station (1310 and 970 AM, and eventually 102.9 FM) for his show.
Shortly after moving to Asheville, I made sure to listen to Pat with co-host Bill McClement on The WISE Guys. As mentioned above, local sports were the focus, but there was discussion of national topics like the NFL, college football, Major League Baseball, and so forth. At the time, I began covering MLB for Yahoo! Sports. So I emailed Pat and Bill to ask if they had anyone to talk about baseball on the show. I was fortunate enough to be on local radio in Michigan and Toledo, Ohio when I covered the Detroit Tigers for SB Nation’s Bless You Boys and hoped I could keep that going at my new home.
Bill politely informed me that they already had Bill Ballew, who wrote for Baseball America, the Asheville Tourists minor league team (and MiLB.com), and was an authority on local baseball history. But maybe I could fill in when Bill was on vacation or couldn’t appear on the show. Weeks later, Pat was having lunch with my sister’s husband, who bought advertising on the show and mentioned that I covered baseball for Yahoo. Apparently, that was too much of a coincidence for Pat to ignore.
When Bill Ballew couldn’t appear on the radio as often, I took over his twice-weekly appearances. Pat knew that I enjoyed writing about movies and asked me to do reviews on the show when it expanded to three hours daily. When Bill McClement was let go by the station and I briefly covered the NFL, I switched from movies to football, which I’d been doing for the past three years with Pat and a rotating gang of guest co-hosts.
Being on the radio — sports talk or otherwise — in some form was always sort of a dream. (Most of us wanted to be a DJ at some point in our lives, right? Playing the songs we thought were cool and finding out everyone loved your great taste?) Thanks to Pat Ryan, I was able to fulfill that ambition twice a week. He was always supportive of my work — and I switched jobs quite a few times during nine years of talking to Pat regularly.
And if I ever doubted the reach of Pat’s show, being recognized in public by my voice took care of that. (It happened twice. The first time was by someone standing next to me at a movie theater concession counter. The other was at a comic book shop when a fellow customer was talking about why he didn’t like baseball. I couldn’t figure out why until I was told, “He knows you from the radio.”)
Pat’s interest in people was infectious, as was his love for his wife Kathleen, music (especially Rush), music biographies (it was always easy to get him a Christmas gift), and sports teams like the Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds. He loved Asheville and Western North Carolina. They loved him back.
I haven’t tried to make many friends during my time in Asheville. Fortunately, Pat Ryan was one of them. I owe a lot to him. I’ll really miss talking to my friend twice a week on the radio.