The beginning of the end of Chris McClain’s athletic career came in a varsity basketball game during his senior year of high school.
“I’m trying to slide over to help defense with this dude who’s 6-6 – he’s ridiculous, he ended up at Penn State – and he drives in, I’m sliding over, and he dunks the ball and breaks the glass backboard. Next thing you see is me going like this,” McClain says, putting his hands above his head, defensively, “and I’ve got cuts on me. ... I think that’s when I realized, yeah, he’s gonna keep playing and I’m not.”
But by that point, the stage was already set for his real calling in life: arguing about sports – which he now does every weekday on WFNZ.
As a boy, he studied the pros (broadcasters, not athletes) by staying up past midnight, listening to jocks jabbering on New York’s WFAN and Philadelphia’s WIP. He was just 11 when he first joined the fray:
“I called the local sports show in York, Pennsylvania, and started arguing with the host,” McClain recalls. “I was a Syracuse basketball fan when I was a kid. I don’t really know why ... now I can’t stand Syracuse. But he was ripping Syracuse basketball, so I called in to defend them, and I tried to mix it up with the host. He yelled at me and hung up on me. Man, that was fun.”
After earning a broadcast journalism degree from Towson University in Maryland, he pursued that fun, from a producing job at CBS SportsLine to his first “Mac Attack” show in Florida to a NASCAR talk show for XM Radio. Since McClain came to WFNZ in 2004, there routinely have been switch-ups: He was second chair in a midday duo with Sandy Penner, then Penner left in 2006, then he was teamed with with Jim Celania in 2009, then Celania retired last October.
But there’ve been a couple of constants, too. One is his producer of a dozen years, Travis “T-Bone” Hancock, a Connecticut native and Winston-Salem transplant whose only previous job was bagging groceries at his uncle’s Food Lion; now a co-host, McClain calls his 33-year-old sidekick “the Kurt Warner of radio.”
The other thing that hasn’t changed is the arguing – even if it’s just, mainly, for (the) show.
“On the air, Mac and I will scream at each other, and then literally we’ll just laugh it off afterward,” says Hancock, who says he wasn’t good enough to make his high school baseball or basketball teams but would fiercely debate sports, even as an elementary-school kid, with grown men at the pub where his mom worked. “Nothing ever lingers.”
So for the foreseeable future, they’ll keep screaming at each other, at callers, at guests (ask “Mac” sometime about what went down with former Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Brentson Buckner), or just screaming in general – about whatever might be irking them on that particular morning. No matter how early it is.
“It’s funny,” McClain says, “when I first moved to mornings, I was replacing Gary Williams, who’s now at the Golf Channel. He’s a very polished broadcaster. He’s not as emotional as me – not as loud as me. So you had a lot of listeners that were like, ‘Holy s---, Mac is screaming at me in the morning. He used to be on in the midday; I’d be awake by then.’
“And at first, I was kind of like, ‘Ah, f---, am I too damn loud for the morning?’ But I heard from a couple people in the last week that said, ‘Mac, man, you’re my alarm clock. You get me going. That’s how I wake up: Mac screaming about the Panthers.’ ”
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The Mac Attack
Host: Chris “Mac” McClain, 43.
Station: 610-AM (102.5 on the FM dial), aka “The Fan.” (Sports; owned by Entercom.)
On the air at WFNZ since: July 2004. In the morning time slot since: February 2009.