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September 3, 2021

Murph & Mac Act Like There’s No Tomorrow

“You’re definitely aware of your own mortality,” shrugs Paulie. “We just try to have fun with it. Even on the air, that’s just how it is.”

It’s 10:01 am on a Wednesday in KNBR’s North Beach studios.  The sun splashed the Cumulus building and the rest of San Francisco just about 3 hours earlier.


Generally this marks quitting time for Brian Murphy and Paulie McCaffrey but today they have one promo read that stands between them and the door.  The day’s 4 hour Murph and Mac show was pretty typical for the longest running sports radio tandem in the Bay Area.  Brian discussed the turbulent nature of his recent colonoscopy and Paulie asked earnest questions about the process.  All live on 50,000 watts.

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Preparing for their 30 second spot, the two radio vets are a shining example of the idea that opposites attract.  Brian, in a quarter zip and khakis, is looking over the copy tossing out ideas about how they should attack the read.  Paulie, in his hoodie and jeans, answers with Good Will Hunting quotes, all while tapping his black converse-adorned foot to a tune he’s humming to himself.  This dance between the San Francisco icons lasts for about 3 minutes before they ultimately decide on nothing, other than just to try it.

They nail it on the first take.

The shorthand between Murph and Mac is tough to describe.  They have the kind of connection you can only forge over nearly 14 years of live radio.  They can have full conversations with a moment of eye contact.  Theirs is a relationship beyond coworkers or even friendship.  It almost feels like a marriage.

“I only see one problem with the marriage comparison,” admits Bonnie-Jill Laflin, owner of the show’s third microphone for the last year.  

“Married people fight way more.”

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Like any tale worth telling, the origin story of Murph and Mac starts with two young men who had no aspirations of becoming what they are today.

Brian Murphy graduated Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco in 1985 and headed off to UCLA to pursue a career in sports writing.

“The dream was to write for Sports Illustrated,” Murphy recounts.

“Back then, there was a traditional route.  You’d find a job out of college working for any paper that would have you, then work your way up from there.  That was my plan.”

His plan eventually earned him a position with the San Francisco Chronicle covering golf in the early 2000s and catching the attention of the market’s sports radio giant.

“My first interaction with KNBR came as a guest, actually.  They’d have me on to talk golf leading up to a major or some big tournament.  It was a lot of fun.”

What the sports writer viewed as “fun,” the powers that be at KNBR viewed as potential.  In the spring of ’04, Murphy was recruited to fill in opposite Ralph Barbieri on The Razor and Mr. T while Tom Tolbert was traveling for NBA duties.

“You can definitely say my radio career is owed to Tom’s television career,” Murphy offers with a slight chuckle.

In less than a year, Murphy was offered a full time position on the station’s morning drive – one he cautiously accepted.

“I always thought, ‘OK, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just go back to writing.'”

In November of 2004, KNBR had one half of what would become their cornerstone morning show.  Unknown to the station and Murphy at the time, the co-host they were looking for had already worked at the station for nearly a decade…as a copywriter.

Paul McCaffrey grew up “bicoastal” well before it was cool, which could not be more Paul McCaffrey.  

After spending time in a handful of cities, his college years found him in Boston where he attended Curry College.

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“They had a great college radio station, so I would hang out there and eventually they had me DJ jazz at like 7 am on Tuesdays and from there I did every genre up to hip hop.”

McCaffrey pauses.

“Late 80s hip hop, man – think of all those great artists!”

Upon graduation, McCaffrey did what he always thought he would do and returned to the City by the Bay.

“The time I spent in San Francisco as a kid, I always knew this place was special.  I always knew I would be back here.  I love this city.”

By the mid 90s McCaffrey found himself in that copywriter position.  He wasn’t a DJ, but he was just fine with that.

“I was working in radio in a great city.  I wasn’t on air, but I had pretty much let the dream go by then.”

Perhaps Paul was ready to let his on air dream die, but KNBR General Manager Tony Salvatore had no such intention.

“I remember I used to argue with coworkers getting coffee, or in the hallway or something, always about sports – and Tony used to hear me, point and say; ‘I wanna hear more from you.'”

Almost to McCaffrey’s shock, Salvatore gave the copywriter a shot on the station’s newly acquired Ticket 1050.  He didn’t spend years in small to medium markets climbing the ladder to big market radio, and he didn’t grind through print media – but he was a passionate fan.  His voice was that of the listeners and that perspective was cherished by Salvatore.  In a few years, the Curry College grad made a name for himself not only on 1050, but the company’s rock station 107.7 The Bone.  A passion for sports and music along with an infectious sense of humor had made McCaffrey’s dreams come true.  But things were about to get even better.

By Christmas of 2005 Brian Murphy had been handling KNBR’s morning drive for a year – but the station was still searching for his co-pilot.  It was at this point they decided to try Paul McCaffrey opposite Murphy for a handful of shows.  You couldn’t pinpoint the reason why or how, but somehow the sports writer and the college jazz DJ complimented each other perfectly.  The left side of the brain and the right. They fit together as well as their surnames – Murphy and McCaffrey – or as Tony Salvatore first exclaimed after their first few shows: “Murph and Mac!”

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The marriage of Murph and Mac officially began just weeks later.  For better or for worse – in sickness and in health.  Unfortunately for Paulie and Brian, the San Francisco sports landscape during their first couple years was beyond sick – it was on life support.

“It was awful,” Brian remembers, laughing as if to keep from crying.

“Think about it – the Giants were terrible, the Warriors were terrible, the Niners were terrible.  We had nothing!”

From the jump – their partnership was tested.  They were forced to make 4 hours of content everyday out of franchises that weren’t giving them much to chat about.  It was a challenge they overcame by a little old fashioned creativity.

“We tried a lot of stuff,” Paulie recalls through a nostalgic smile.

The two developed a fake auction in which they would push items associated with losing that no one would want, a “grievance game,” and of course – Paulie Mac’s now signature parody songs.

After a year of making lemonade out of lemons – Murph and Mac had established themselves with Bay Area commuters, just in time for the sports scene to turn around.  The “We Believe” Warriors in the Spring of 2007 galvanized the Bay Area in a way that was relatively unprecedented, certainly in the previous ten years.  After the ’07 Golden State run, the Giants rose to relevance with Tim Lincecum’s ascension in ’08 and the team’s playoff push in ’09.  By the summer of 2010, there was a momentum with the San Francisco Giants that no one could really put a word on – no one but Paulie Mac.

“That summer, the Giants would keep winning these close games, and we were the first ones on the next day to talk about it – and Paulie would always say ‘this feels different, everyone, there’s magic in the air!  There’s particles!'”

It was during that run 9 years ago that Murph and Mac rose to a different level of fame among Bay Area sports fans.  They would soon be stopped on the street by construction workers only to hear jackhammer operators yell “PARTICLES!”

The subsequent 3 World Series titles by the Giants, the renaissance of the 49ers and the Warriors developing into one of the best teams in the history of the NBA put the Bay Area at the center of the sports world, and Murph and Mac were there for the fans every morning.  They became synonymous with success, and fans grew closer and closer to their favorite morning show.

Ask Brian and Paulie for a specific example of a moment they realized how important their show is to certain listeners and they’re overwhelmed.  They’ve had people reach out to express how their show got them through personal tragedy.  How they offered up a daily distraction from pain and loss.  Neither expected to have such an intimate connection with their fan base, but it’s one they refuse to take lightly.

The secret to their success?  It might be the “act like there’s no tomorrow attitude” they bring to every show.  In an industry that can be as ruthless as any in the world, in a market and a station where they’ve seen a number of coworkers lose their positions without much warning, Brian and Paulie have little delusions about job security.  

“You’re definitely aware of your own mortality,” shrugs Paulie.  “We just try to have fun with it.  Even on the air, that’s just how it is.”

“Yeah we’ve seen Bay Area legends walk out the door – so why not us tomorrow you know?  It’s kind of like gallows humor,” declares Brian.

That humility and subtle vulnerability of Murph and Mac is more than just part of their appeal.  They’re approachable and it comes through on the airwaves. Their bond is built on being next to each other for countless highs and lows in their personal lives.

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“This guy is the best,” Brian sighs while glancing at this partner.  His voice as genuine as it was while discussing the unpleasant nature of his colonoscopy.

“There’s absolutely days when you don’t feel like telling jokes for four hours – but it’s on those days when you really have to bring it,” describes Paulie.  “You never see David Lee Roth or Mick Jagger come out and cancel a show ’cause they’re having a bad day – why should we?”

In nearly 14 years Murph and Mac has gone from the new show to THE show in the Bay Area.  They’re not looking for your adoration, they’re not looking to be celebrated – they’re just happy listeners continue to make them a part of their commute.

Not bad for a golf beat writer and a copy writing jazz DJ.  

View Article on Barrett Media

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