Eric Messersmith is living the dream. Well, sort of.
When Messersmith first thought about speaking into a microphone more than 20 years ago, he didn’t think it would be sports talk radio. The Penn State University alum wanted to be a play-by-play baseball announcer, calling the game he loved since a kid. He certainly has the voice for it. Instead, Messersmith got into a different kind of radio, landing gigs in Pennsylvania, Texas, and now Missouri.
He spends the days talking St. Louis sports with former University of Columbia, Missouri tight end, T.J. Moe, and former St. Louis Blues enforcer, Cam Janssen, during the afternoon drive on 590 The Fan KFNS. Playing the point for a couple hot takes dispensing former athletes doesn’t sound like an easy job. There are times where one could believe a referee jersey would fit Messersmith quite well. He makes it look easy, serving up points for his co-hosts to slam home before delivering the statistical analysis grounds the theories of his teammates.
However, Messersmith saves his best work for home, where he cares for his four-year old son, Max, along with his broadcasting fiance, KSDK News’ Christina Coleman. Max was diagnosed with autism when he was just two years old, and his parents have spent the past couple years adapting to the rigors of balancing busy careers with an active home life. A professional radio talker by day, Messersmith seems at ease with it all, taking it one day at a time. Always carrying a smile on his face and a warm greeting, you would think life was running behind him trying to play catchup.
Over a couple beverages at the Kirkwood Brewhouse, which sits right next to the 590 The Fan studios, I talked to Messersmith about the radio business, life at home, and if he saw it all coming two decades ago.
Buffa: How did you get in the radio business?
Messersmith: My first radio job was in Altuna, Pennsylvania at WRTA, which was a single stand alone talk station. I was in high school and I wanted to do radio. I did a community service program and worked there as an intern. When I was in college, there was a job opening and I was their board operator. The first thing I did that I can remember before I got hired, when I was still a intern, was alphabetizing this big room of records. I wrote down the album title and the songs on each album. It was awful and tedious, but I got a job out of it and that’s how I started.
Buffa: When you think about where you started and where you are now, running point on an afternoon drive talk show with an ex-football player and ex-hockey player-is this how you thought it would go back in 1997?
Messersmith: I don’t think so. When I got into it, I wanted to do play-by-play. That’s what I wanted to do. I never thought about sports talk. I grew up a Mets fan listening to Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner. It wasn’t until much later that I thought about doing sports talk radio.
Buffa: After a show ends, and you think back on it, what needs to happen during those two hours on the air for you to be satisfied and call it a good show?
Messersmith: In this industry, there’s a huge subjective element for what’s good and what’s not. It’s an art after all. For me, when I look back on a show, did we hit the topics that were important? It’s not what we want to talk about, but what people care about. You have to make it interesting. The second thing was, were we funny? Dan LeBatard says you have to find the funny, and I think that’s true. It’s about being funny, keeping it light. You can get into a serious discussion, but you have to come back to a place where you can make it funny. You don’t want to get too serious.
Buffa: Let’s switch gears. You are the parent of a child with autism, Max, who is four years old. If you and Christine had to talk to a couple whose kid was just diagnosed with the disorder, what would you tell them?
Messersmith: I would say be patient, and it’s hard for all of us. Max was our first kid, so it was hard. Having a kid automatically decreases your patience. You need to learn as much as you can. It can be overwhelming. You don’t have to find everything out at once. Max was diagnosed when he was two, and we are still learning. You get as much information as you can, try to get support, and there are good places out there for support. Just be patient.
Buffa: I don’t think people really have a grasp on what autism is.
Messersmith: Up until recently, there wasn’t awareness. It’s such a wide ranging disease. If someone has heart disease, we all get it. If someone has autism, it can mean a lot of different things. Some people don’t ever speak. Others have limited and delayed speech. There are adults with autism who have regular jobs who may just be a little awkward socially. Some can’t work. It depends on the individual.
Buffa: What’s a good day for you, Christina, and Max?
Messersmith: A good day for Max would be a day where he’s in a good mood. All kids at that age, 3-5, are dangerous at this time. Max gets upset with the communication problems. At this point, he doesn’t speak. A day where he doesn’t throw a tantrum, goes to the park, and gets to run around. He doesn’t like confined spaces. The Zoo is one of his favorite places. Basically, the things a neuro-typical kid would enjoy.
Buffa: Who is the toughest person in your life?
Messersmith: Cam (Janssen) is physically the toughest guy I know. Anybody who does that for a living and likes to do it, and not be bothered by it, that takes a special kind of person. The toughest person I know generally is Christina. She’s really tough. To do what she has done, coming into an area where we didn’t know anybody, that’s really hard. Moving away with a young child. Max was one and a half. Television news is a tough job and balancing a career. She’s the toughest one I know.
Buffa: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Messersmith: My mom told me when I was young to do what I wanted to do. She didn’t get to do that. She wanted to be a teacher, but never did it, working in finance instead. She knew I wanted to do sports broadcasting. When I was older, there was a guy named Jon Chelesnik. He works for a company called STA, which is a sports broadcasting talent agency. He told me that in this business, you had to be willing to go where the jobs are.
When I graduated from college, I moved to Moberly and got a job there. He advised that I take it and I did. Working there was like getting a doctorate degree in broadcasting. The other thing he told me was don’t be afraid to move to somewhere that I want to go, even if you don’t have a job there. If you think you have to do it, don’t be afraid. So I was in Moberly for four years and got an opportunity in San Antonio, and took it. It was part-time, but I figured I needed to take this chance.
When it comes to parenting and his career, Eric Messersmith did what he had to do in order to get to a place where satisfaction and respect merged. The effort always exists before the reward. In order to be a success, you have to take a chance, and Messersmith did that from day one.
While he wanted to call baseball games at a young age, Messersmith still gets to sit behind a microphone and talk about sports with a couple pro athletes five days a week. When he’s done, Max and Christina await him at home. Messersmith never stops moving, but he makes it look easy. He’s tireless, but in order to do that, you need a solid foundation at home.
Messersmith is a selfless point man at home and on the airwaves. He knows how to make a dent even when he’s not the focus of the action. He doesn’t need the spotlight or the credit to know he is good at something. For him, it all comes natural. No matter where life has taken him, Messersmith continues to do what he loves, effortlessly pursuing the funny in radio and building a beautiful family at home.
That’s a heck of a life if you ask me.