It's been over a year since Saints fans have heard from Kenny Wilkerson following his resignation from WWL. Since then he has left behind many questions and has quickly become an internet phenomenon shrouded in mystery. Everyone wants to know: Just where the heck is he?
He's right here. For the first time in quite a while, Kenny Wilkerson is speaking and he has chosen Canal Street Chronicles to do so.
For those of you who have been anxiously awaiting his return to radio...wait no more! The man, the myth, the legend is finally coming back to the airwaves with a new talk show on 990AM WGSO starting this June. He's a bad mother SHUT YO MOUTH!
Along with his new radio show he's also going to be hitting the internet, including right here on Canal Street Chronicles. He has already expressed an interest in helping out here and becoming a valuable member so expect to see more of Kenny in the near future. If any of you guys have ideas on what you might like to see from Kenny let us know. My initial thoughts were to have you submit questions for Kenny to answer.
But this isn't about me today, it's about Kenny. So without further ado let me present you with the first part of my conversation with Kenny. I thank him for taking the time to speak with me over the phone for a while to answer some of my questions. In this first part we discuss his career, the Saints off-season so far and his brand new show starting in June. Be sure to return tomorrow for part two of our discussion.
It is my great pleasure to officially (sort of) welcome back Mr. Kenny Wilkerson.
CSC: Give us a little history of Kenny Wilkerson.
KW: I was born and raised in New Orleans. I moved away and lived in Cincinnati for one year when I was young but came back to New Orleans. It's always been my home and it will always be my home. I got into the media business covering press conferences and doing things on a part-time basis around 1989. My oldest brother Gary Wilkerson used to do radio and television in Lafayette and Baton Rouge and I started helping him by recording press conferences and such, especially during the week so that he wouldn't have to drive all the way from Lafayette.
In 1990 that turned into doing some morning reports, a preview report on Friday morning and a review of the game on Monday morning. I kind of got that job on my own from having a little bit of experience the year before. The next year the management of WSNB gave me a time slot to do a talk show in the afternoon. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and I was scared to death but I went in there and started doing it. I actually got to a point after the first week when I went to Tom Fitzmorris, the man who was running the station at the time, and said to him, "I don't think I can do this." He told me to stick with it. He knew I could talk with people on the radio and have good conversations with people but I just had to let it develop and he was right. Within about two weeks I kinda started getting the hang of it and things kind of started clicking.
I did the show for the 1990 and 1991 season. It became a full-time thing. The company that owned WWL and some other radio stations bought WSNB, which was a common thing to do at the time, and moved into the same studio as WWL in what is now the Dominion Tower. So I moved over with them. They retained just a couple of people but I was lucky enough to be one of them. That was when Buddy D. was hired at WWL. When football season rolled around a couple of months later, Buddy and I had started to get to know each other a little bit. He and I talked about going out to Saints camp on a daily basis, which I was already doing, and doing a daily report for Buddy and his show. He was all for it and wanted to do it so I started doing it. And that's how the job even developed at WWL.
One thing led to another and I kind of moved into the position of doing the pre-game and locker room interviews. After that I moved along for who knows how many years. That was pretty much from the 1993 season until 2005 when Buddy passed away. Shortly thereafter they began their search for Buddy's replacement and of course I applied. I went through the whole process. I had already been on the air with them at that point for close to 15 years. I was lucky enough that they decided to go with me and Bobby Hebert. We started doing the show together a few months before Katrina hit. Of course everything went haywire and we were doing all kinds of crazy shows on the road. Hokie [Gajan] and I were driving all over the place to put a gameday broadcast together. We would either drive to San Antonio and fly with the team to their location or some games we would just drive ourselves. But Hokie and I figured we drove back and forth across the country about three times. When the football season was over the year after Katrina was when things finally settled down and we started doing five days a week of Sports Talk.
After the 2007 season my contract had expired and it was a joint decision to not renew my contract. Things had changed greatly regarding my relationship with the Saints. The station had a desire to continue to always be the station of the Saints and keep that gameday broadcast. That was very important to them, which I understand and I certainly don't blame them. But my relationship with the Saints had become even more turbulent than ever because of my relationship with Sean Payton. He disagreed a lot with how I did my job and the way I went about doing my job. I was there all the time and knew so many people.
CSC: How did Payton want you to do your job?
KW: He, and they, started doing what a lot of teams have started doing. Really it's been passed down. Parcells kinda started it and Belichick really picked up on it. They just don't want anything reported unless they release it. If they release it then it's okay to report it. And they don't want anything reported about them that is not confirmed by them. Quite frankly, the station called me in and said that the Saints weren't happy with the stuff I had been reporting and some of the things that I had said. They said that I had to, from that point, confirm anything and everything that I was going to report about the team before I said it on the air. And at that point I knew it was only a matter of time before it would all be over. I even said at the time, "You don't want me to be a reporter anymore, you just want me to be a mouthpiece."
One of the first big blow ups between me and Payton was when Roman Harper went down with a knee injury during a game in his rookie season. We asked Payton about Harper and his status the next day at the Monday press conference which was around one or two in the afternoon. Payton said they didn't have the results of his MRI yet. A couple of hours later we were already on the air during the usual Monday Second Guess Show with Mike Detillier and Bobby. I always filed a report during that show about whatever was said by the head coach at his Monday press conference. I went on with Bobby and Detillier and told them that the head coach had said they didn't have the results yet. About twenty minutes later I found out that they did know the results and that he was placed on IR. So I went back on the air and told everyone that the news on Roman Harper wasn't good and that he would be out for the season.
About ten minutes later Sean Payton walked into the room and asked if he could talk to me in another room. He asked me what I was reporting about Roman Harper and whether I had reported that he was on IR. I admitted that I did and also that I knew he was aware of the injury before we had asked him at the press conference. Payton wanted to know how I had found out and was upset because he didn't want that information released until Wednesday when the injury report goes out. So I said, "Coach, does it really make that much of a difference with teams preparing for you? A rookie that's only played three games for you? Does it really make that big of a difference if the opposition knows that Roman Harper is out on Monday as opposed to Wednesday?" He didn't like that I was challenging him and questioning him. After that point we just continued to butt heads on issues and we continued to butt heads throughout the 2006 season on lots of things that I found out and was reporting.
CSC: Do you think Coach Payton is just doing his job or is there more to it?
KW: I think Payton is doing his job the way he was taught to do it from working with Bill Parcells. He's doing it the way that he knows how to do it. Keep everything in house. Keep a tight ship. Keep everybody together. I certainly can't knock the man for wanting to do that and doing his job the way he was trained. At the same time, I was trained by Buddy Diliberto to cover the football team and report anything and everything that was going on with them regardless of whether it's going to make anyone mad. The truth is the truth. The point being, like Buddy and I used to talk about, the fans deserve to know everything that's going on. I think the majority of people out there, whether the Saints are winning or losing, feel that because they're spending their money on tickets and such that they're entitled to know as much as possible about what's going on with the team; good and bad.
Over the years it seems a lot of these discussions always get to talking about the bad things. All the bad stuff that's going on. But most of my career I've spent a tremendous amount of time always in search of and reporting the good stuff. All the good stuff that these guys did off the field and on the field. I tried to stay as positive as possible all the time. But the fact of the matter is that when any team starts losing and things start going bad, at that point nobody really cares about the good stuff. They just want to know what the heck is going on. What is going on with these guys. That question has been asked of me thousands of times over the years about this football team. Things were always so crazy. Almost as crazy as Al Davis and how he runs the Raiders. People would constantly ask me what was going on and it was my job to find out as much as I could.
CSC: Let's talk about the team. What do you think about the Saints off-season moves so far?
KW: I think the Saints have improved their football team and improved their roster just like every other team in the league improves their roster in the off-season. Everybody gets better. Everybody makes changes. Have the Saints improved their roster with enough outstanding, elite players? I'm not convinced of that. Who are the elite players that they have gone out and gotten? They drafted a cornerback in Malcolm Jenkins that is a cornerback/safety. They don't even know if he's going to be able to play corner and cover NFL receivers man-to-man. He might not even be as good as Tracy Porter. Only time will tell.
They're counting on Dan Morgan being healthy. If Dan Morgan is healthy than they've got something working there. Dan Morgan is a tenacious player. An outstanding football player. I've stood on that sideline many times and watch Dan Morgan practically take over games. But he's got to be healthy.
They are still, in my opinion, going into this season the same way they went into last season. They are a very fragile team. They have good players but they have a lot of players on this team that could get injured very easily. If they suffer from a rash of injuries just like most teams in the league, they are in a lot of trouble. If they stay healthy they can win a lot of games. But they have a lot of older players.
If you want to talk about the Saints biggest move of the off-season that would be the hiring of Gregg Williams. I think Williams is an outstanding coach but with that said, this man's got an awful lot of pressure on him. He's supposed to be the savior. People think he's supposed to come in here and turn everything around on the defensive side of the ball with his coaching and his attitude. But if he is so good, why has he been with a couple of teams over the last few years? Why has he moved around? Is it because he's gotten frustrated with the teams he's been with or is it because he just wasn't getting the job done? I think we're probably going to find out in about four to six games as to whether or not the defensive players on this team are responding to his coaching.
CSC: If you had to choose between Will Smith and Charles Grant, who would you pick?
KW: Will Smith, hands down. He plays every play. He doesn't take plays off. Now Will, as we found out at the end of last year, was playing the entire season with an injury and also carried around an extra twenty to thirty pounds of weight that he didn't need. I think Will would be the first to admit that he was too heavy last year and it took away some of his quickness. But Will Smith is a monster. Will Smith is a tremendous football player. A definite Pro Bowler as long as he's healthy.
Charles Grant has been what he was billed as coming into the league out of Georgia. The things that were said about Charles Grant have turned out to be exactly what he is as an NFL player. He's a good football player. He's got a lot of talent. He's got a lot of speed. He's got a lot of power. He's got a lot of strength. But he takes plays off. He plays one play, takes another play off. Plays one play, takes another play off. That was always the knock on him and it's turned out to be true. That's what he's done his entire NFL career.
And it's a tough battle for some of these guys fighting the weight issues. They come to a city like New Orleans and all the great food and they're going to have twice as much trouble as a guy playing anywhere else. Charles is one of them that has had a tough battle throughout his career with his weight. When his weight is down and he's not taking plays off then he's outstanding. But if I had to pick one, it's not even something to think about for more than five seconds. It would be Will Smith.
CSC: Tell us about your new show.
KW: It's called Sports Talk Unplugged and I plan to open up the phone lines and focus on being a voice for the fans. It's going to be mostly caller-oriented. Sports talk in general throughout the country has become extremely saturated. There are a million shows out there now and everybody is trying to outdo each other with who can get the most guests and who can get the best guests. I think shows have just gotten kind of old. Having guests on for two or three minutes, asking them a couple of questions but not getting in-depth at all. It's not going to be about how many big names I can get to come on my show. I'm going to be much more interested in the fans and the audience calling and having good debates and good conversation on the air with people. Having the same kind of talk that guys have when they're all just sitting around with an ice chest of beer or a bunch of guys all sitting at a bar talking about a team and about sports. I mean that's real sports talk. When people are just talking. Not holding back and really talking about what they think but at the same time having some people that have a bit of knowledge and that have a bit of access to players and stuff. I may be proven wrong that it's not the best way to go at this time and in this era but that's my goal with the show. It's going to be much more oriented and focused on the fans and on callers. If I'm going to have any guests on the show it's going to be for me to talk to them for just a few minutes and then for the fans to call in and talk to them for a while. And ask them anything they want. If people don't want to come on and talk about anything anybody wants to ask them within reason and about football then I'm not really interested in having them on.
CSC: Do you have still any contacts within the organization?
KW: I think there are always ways to find out what's going on. You have to work hard and you have to do your job right. You have to be relentless.
CSC: Before we end today, what would you like to let everyone know?
KW: It's been a rough couple of years with some very severe personal and medical issues between myself and my wife. It feels real good to be getting back into this and getting busy a little bit. Talking to a lot of people. Getting a fresh start with the new show and the new station. I am very happy to be given this opportunity to have a fresh start. My wife and I still have a long way to go and a very tough road ahead of us still but it's great to be getting back into this. How far will it go? I don't know. That remains to be seen. How popular will the show be? I don't know. But it's great to be getting back into it slowly - because I'm only going to be on once a week - and getting my mind off of personal issues that I've been dealing with.
Remember to check back tomorrow for part two of our discussion when Kenny and I discuss Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister and the 2013 Super Bowl.You won't want to miss it.