Q&A; WITH JOHN IRELAND:Former Sea King no paper boy

The media, in some form or fashion, has been a big part of John Ireland's life for a long time. His first job ever was delivering the Daily Pilot, when he was a middle school student in Corona del Mar.

Ireland, the 1981 CdM High grad who just turned 44 and lives in Manhattan Beach with his wife and child, has also come a long way. He went on to college at UCLA, graduating in 1985 with a history degree.

Ireland has also been with KCAL Channel 9 for 12 years. In addition to studio work on Channel 9 and sister station KCBS Channel 2, Ireland is the recognizable face who is the Los Angeles Lakers sideline reporter, and also works L.A. Dodgers games. Ireland is also employed by the 710 ESPN radio station, where he does "The Big Show" afternoon show with Steve Mason from 3-7 p.m. on weekdays.

The Daily Pilot caught up with its former newspaper boy on Thursday. Ireland and Mason were broadcasting their radio show on site at the Home Depot Center, the site of X Games 13.

Question: You were on the CdM basketball team that won the CIF 3-A championship in 1981, right?

Answer: I was. We had a great team that year. I didn't see too much playing time because we had such a great team. All five of our starters went on to play in college. Jeff Pries was the best athlete in the school, Sea King of the Year and he was drafted by the Yankees. He was our second or third-best player, and he was unbelievable. He would have been the best player on any other team in the league.

Jeff Pries, Mark Spinn and Steve Moore all went on scholarships to play basketball. Then we had underclassmen in the backcourt, Chris Lynch and Mike Hess, and the next year they both went on [to play college basketball]. And they all went to good schools. Hess went to Texas, Lynch went to Dartmouth, Moore went to Cal Poly Pomona, Spinn went to [UC Irvine] and Pries went to UCLA to play baseball.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with Corona del Mar at all? I know you host Irrelevant Week every year.

A: Well, my parents still live there. I'm down there a couple of times a month. I play golf at the Newport Beach Country Club with my dad probably five or six times a year. I'm down there fairly often, so I hear a lot about what's going on.

I do Mr. Irrelevant for Paul Salata, the guy who runs all that. We've been friends with that family, Paul and Melanie, for a lot of years; I'll do that as long as he wants me to. I think he's a really cool guy, even though he went to USC, and that's a really cool event.

Q: What was it like for you after graduating from UCLA? You went out of California for a few years.

A: That's typical in this business. If you want to go into television news, they've got to get a tape of you recording, so they can see what you look like on camera. I made a tape at UCLA and sent it out all over the place, and ended up in Monroe, La. in 1985. I stayed there for six months as a news reporter; sports jobs were too hard to get.

Then, I got a sports job in Beaumont, Texas, from 1986-90. I spent two years there as the weekend guy, then two years as the weekday guy. The guy I was working for there bought a station in San Diego in 1990, and that was my big break. I was in San Diego from 1990-95, then I got the KCAL job in '95 and I've been there ever since.

Q: Did you know that you eventually wanted to come back to Southern California?

A: Yeah, obviously that's what you want to do if you could pull it off. It's easier said than done. Los Angeles is the No. 2 market in the country, so I knew I wasn't going to get a job right out of college working in L.A. But I had begun targeting getting back to L.A. once I got to San Diego. I sent tapes to a couple of different stations in L.A. and got a good response.

Guys would say stuff like, "I don't have anything right now, but keep sending me anything you think is good." So maybe once a year, I would send tapes, and finally in '95 something opened up at Channel 9. As a matter of fact, the guy I replaced on Channel 9 is Mark Steines, who's now on "Entertainment Tonight."

Q: You've been a sports guy at KCAL longer than anyone else currently there. Are you like the elder statesman?

A: I've been there the longest, but I'm the youngest guy. It's funny how that works. But there have been a lot of great people who have come through there … I think it helps that I wear a lot of different hats. I'm on the radio, and then I marry myself to the Lakers for six months. They can send me anywhere, and I think my versatility has helped. If you're just the anchor, it's harder to keep those gigs, because you kind of live and die with the ratings … And I got to the Lakers the same year Shaq and Kobe got to the Lakers, so that's really lucky timing. That helps.

Q: What's it like covering the Lakers?

A: It's very fun. Sometimes it's hard to take off my "Laker fan" hat. I make no apologies for the fact that I grew up a Laker fan, and I'm still a huge Laker fan. But sometimes you've got to go on the air and say, "They're playing terrible tonight. They look awful, and that's the story."

The guy who convinced me that's what you've got to do is [the late Lakers broadcaster] Chick Hearn. Chick would say, "John, you grew up here, so it must be fun covering the Lakers. Remember though, you've got to tell the truth." We owe a debt of gratitude to Chick, because he made it OK to tell the truth.

Chick used to get yelled at by Jack Kent Cooke, the old owner of the Lakers. He would say, "Mr. Hearn, you said nothing nice about my Lakers." And Chick would say, "It's 28 to 4! What nice would you like me to say?" So Chick kind of gave all of us a free pass to tell it like it is, and that helped a lot.

Q: Covering the Lakers three-peat of NBA titles [in 2001-03], was that the most fun thing you've ever covered?

A: Yeah, those three were fun. I kind of got to know that team as it grew up. I watched Shaq and Kobe get swept out of the playoffs by San Antonio, and lose in five games to Utah. I watched the growth process … and we did some really fun stuff at those NBA Finals, in Indiana, Philly and New Jersey.

I think because I had spent some time with those guys, they were comfortable letting me do some goofy stuff with them. I remember one time I did a story and I gave all of them a history test. [Robert] Horry and [Mark] Madsen and [Derek] Fisher and [Rick] Fox, all of those guys would play ball with me. That was the highlight of my time at KCAL, covering those three titles.

Q: What do you think about Kobe this summer? It seems like all of Los Angeles didn't know what would happen next.

A: I think he's really frustrated, but I think a lot of Laker fans are also really frustrated. I think they understand where he's coming from. And I talk to the front office a lot, and they're not happy with what's happening. But I think most fans agree with Kobe. They think the Lakers should either make a trade, or go get Jerry West, and until they do one of those things he won't back down.

In this particular case, he's got fan support on his side. Obviously it hasn't always been on his side, with all of the stuff he's gone through, but with this it is.

Q: You interviewed former Newport Harbor High pole vaulter Allison Stokke on your radio show. What were your impressions?

A: Couldn't have been nicer. I really liked her. I thought that she came across as somebody who's really excited to go to college [at Cal] and see what that's like. And good for her, she's not staying in her own backyard. She's going far enough away where she can be on her own but close enough to visit.

I think she's beginning to realize that she can bring some attention to her sport because she's attractive. I think she's OK with that, but at the same time, I think she's uncomfortable with all that attention. She's really one of the first people that's ever happened to. She's a high school kid who's just doing her sport, and then all of a sudden, she's in the Washington Post, the New York Times and on 250,000 websites.

But I was really impressed with her. I think it's never easy to be the first one to go through something. Allison was the victim of circumstances. But for someone who's been through as much as she's been through, I think she handled it really well.

Q: What are some of the differences between doing TV and radio?

A: Well, TV, you have to dress better. But probably the biggest difference is in television you've got to be quick. You have to decide what's really the most important thing; you've got 40 seconds to get that across. In radio, you have four hours. Television's a little bit harder, and radio's more fun.

Q: Do you have to prepare a lot for your radio show, because you know people are going to call in with random topics?

A: What's really helped with that is the Internet. I spend probably a couple of hours every morning, and then a couple of hours at night, on the Internet. It's a great information resource. But, for the most part, what makes good radio is opinions. What you want to come to the table with is opinions.

You can't really say, "Oh, it doesn't matter," or "I don't really care about that." You have to come up with an opinion.

Q: Do you still play basketball?

A: Yeah, I play a lot, actually. My ankles don't hold up as much as they used to, though. I play about once a week when I'm healthy. It's a great way to make friends; I still play with guys I've been playing with for 20 years. It's a great game, and I've never really stopped playing since I was at CdM.

Q: Is it tough on your family, the fact that you're gone for so much of the year?

A: I dated my wife for five years before we got married, so she knew what I was getting into. And she's pretty independent, she's got her own company. We have one child, he's 5, so he's starting to just realize that I'm gone a lot.

It's not the perfect situation, but I'll tell you what: anyone who complains about being a sportscaster is an idiot. It's the best job in the world. You get paid to go to games and talk about sports.

I don't want to come across as someone who would say, "Yeah, it's tough," because there's nothing tough about it. It's a really good gig.

MATT SZABO may be reached at (714) 966-4614 or at matthew.szabo@latimes.com.

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