A Conversation with Rene Knott: 31 years in the news and still loving it

Rene Knott is the epitome of enthusiasm, existing at the intersection of hard work and vigor in the world of news. If being around him for an hour doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what to tell you.The St. Louis morning anchor on KSDK Channel 5 has been delivering the news for 30+ years, from the West Coast to the East Coast. He’s interviewed Cal Ripken on the White House lawn and shared a private room and cigar with Michael Jordan, but he calls the community of St. Louis the best he’s come across in his life and a reason to plant roots here in the Midwest. Through it all, Knott has maintained a passion for the practice, which broadcast was meant to and always will be: a practice that requires diligent work and a will to inform, which Knott has in spades.Whether it’s working as the sports director at KSDK for 12 years or where he sits now, sharing a desk with the lovely Allie Corey on the KSDK morning show, Knott always has a smile on his face and a sense of humor at his disposal.Trust me on the latter. When we sat down at the South City eatery, J.J. Twigs Pizza and Pub, Knott didn’t waste any time in commanding the room. You would think the Mini Cooper he drives ran on loud voices and smiles, but it’s really just a happy guy doing what he loves. It starts with the people. As we sat down and started talking, the waitress took our order, and Knott wanted to know if she was on social media. By the end of our lunch, they were taking a picture together.”I know who you are,” said the waitress. St. Louis knows him as well. Between bites of pizza and sips of beer, The Southern Oregon State College graduate talked about his past, present, and the pit stops along the way. I did my best to shut up and listen.Buffa: When did you know that you wanted to do broadcasting?Knott: When I was in college, during my senior year, I was a speech communication major. I took a class on television news and interned at a station, thinking this was for me. Prior to that, I thought I’d be a football player. I wanted to have a career. Then you realized that in order to be that person, it took a different kind of commitment. Mind, body, and soul. As much as I loved football, I wasn’t mind, body, and soul to that extent. Around 1985, I said let’s do broadcasting and see how it plays out.Buffa: When did sports broadcasting come into focus?Knott: That was a no-brainer. I played football and ran track. My perspective was different from most people. Some people grow up as fans of the sport; I grew up as an athlete, so I appreciate watching someone take the human body to an elite level. Like, how does Usain Bolt run that fast? I wanted to give people the perspective of the athlete. Sports was a natural thing. I started in Oregon, so people knew me from playing sports there. When you’re known for it, people trust that you know what you’re talking about.Buffa: What was your first break or first piece of advice that you ever got?Knott: That’s the craziest thing about it. When it comes to advice, the best piece of advice I didn’t listen to until I moved here. The first piece of advice I got was don’t get caught up in trying to be the network guy or reach some sort of pinnacle. Just find some place where you find happiness, where there’s balance. I went from Oregon to Alabama to Washington D.C., where I was the sports director at the age of 27.I’m there until I was 39, when I moved here. I’m thinking,  man this is a small town, St. Louis. But, after you are here for awhile, I realize this is where you’re supposed to be. My kids have grown up here. Everything is within balance. You’re not chasing anything or living with the Joneses. Your kids are going to great schools and you live in a great neighborhood. In my dreams, I’m thinking about working for ESPN and doing the stuff that Bob Costas is doing. In reality, it’s about finding that peace, that place where you can take it all in.Buffa: What’s the first sports story that you broke?Knott: I never think about it as “breaking.” I look at the experiences. Here’s what my life was like in D.C. I was a part of the two biggest sporting events in St. Louis sports history. We are an ABC station there. We decide to do a pregame show on our air, and the Super Bowl in 2000 was between the Rams and Titans. For a week, I’m down there in Atlanta covering the game. I’m just covering the Super Bowl. I don’t know if you remember about this guy named Mark McGwire. He had this home run derby with Sammy Sosa. McGwire hits the home runs in Miami and they are playing the Cubs in St. Louis. My guy in D.C. wanted us there to cover the first game. That same weekend, the Redskins decided to promote Trent Green, who is from St. Louis. McGwire doesn’t do the record that weekend, but he gets close. We do the Green interview, travel to the Meadowlands, and back to St. Louis for the record breaking home run.The connection is incredible. My family and I go across country to Vegas. Our second stop was in St. Louis. One weekend, I do the tee ball game on the White House lawn with President Bush and Cal Ripken. We stop at the restaurant and have a couple drinks, where suddenly Ozzie Smith happens to be. I just met two of the greatest shortstops in history. Who knew a few things later I’d be working here? The signs were all there.Buffa: What were some of the best athletes you’ve interviewed?

Knott: I can go back to Michael Jordan, when he was working with the Washington Wizards and playing for the Chicago Bulls. I had a good working relationship with him. When covering the Redskins, Darrell Green was our guy. Terry Cruz. I did a radio show with Chris Webber. Cal Ripken Jr. was always someone I could interview. When I came to St. Louis, I hit it off with Albert Pujols.

There were times when Albert would talk to me and there were times where I wouldn’t exist. It’s part of the game. I would have to go year by year with the people I’ve met. It’s long. It’s an incredible ride and can’t be taken for granted. I’ve been doing this 31 years. I was there when Ripken broke the record, when Riddick Bowe dropped Evander Holyfield, and to the Olympics.For a time there, I was disappointed I didn’t reach greater heights. Then I realized you did some great things and met some wonderful people. People like yourself. I appreciate that more than working for a network.Buffa: How is it making the transition from sports to morning news?Knott: It is night and day. When you are covering sports, they don’t have to talk to you. When you talk to a politician, they pretty much have to talk to you or it looks like he’s hiding something. In some ways, it’s easier. It’s also in the building. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark or the pregame skate. You’re in the mix. There’s that velvet rope and you get to go to the side and talk to the athletes. Now, doing the morning news, where we have three hours, there’s more conversation. It’s more relaxed and an opportunity to be myself-and I appreciate that tremendously. I think it (the transition) happened at the right time. I get up at one in the morning and I’m ready to go.Buffa: You’re the face people first see in the morning.

Knott: I look forward to it. When I worked in sports, there was a lot of frustration. You’d work 12 hours and might lose a couple stories because they ran out of time. A lot of control is lost, but now, there’s more control. It’s more my speed. On May 2, I turned 54 years old. We went to the ballgame that day and I was able to watch the game as a fan, have some fun. There was no attachment professionally.

Buffa: When I write about the Cardinals, I have to put my fanboy away, like in the glove box-and write analytically.Knott: That’s hard, because you like some of those guys, so it’s hard to write certain things about them.Buffa: Like Adam Wainwright. It’s sad to write it. It’s bittersweet to be a sportswriter.Knott: That’s the job. You can’t skate around those topics, or people won’t read you.Buffa: You had an ailment recently. What was that like?Knott: It was in the lungs. I’m still recovering, but it gave me an appreciation for reading things and that chasing things is not the end-all be-all. It’s about today, our conversation, and this minute. That’s how you live life. I had PTE surgery, pulmonary hypertension because I had blood clots in my lungs. My heart was enlarging due to the attempt to push blood into my lungs. My kidneys were having issues. It was a domino effect. I had been dealing with this since I was 13.Three cardiologists down the line, I was told to go to Barnes Jewish for a week. Take time weight off your body, because I was retaining fluid. I went from 234 to 214 in a couple days. I went out to San Diego for this nine hour surgery, where they removed these clots. It took another six weeks to recover from that. They told me that you won’t realize how sick you are until a year after the surgery. I remember when the Blues played the Blackhawks in Game 7, my foot was three times the size that it should be, and I couldn’t lace my shoes. I was there for morning skate, and I didn’t realize how sick I was.Buffa: What is it about St. Louis that you’ve come to love?

Knott: The people. For all the issues we have, I’ve met so many good people. Names that aren’t on the news. People at charity events and how deep these people are into helping people. That makes me think this world will be okay. St. Louis is not a big city, but not a small town. It’s a mix of the two. You know what to get and where to get it. I enjoy that. I do think we have some issues to be taken care. Race relations, city/county, Delmar divide, the vacant buildings. There’s many issues. The reason it’s so topical is due to the fact that it’s a small city. We just need some real solutions.

Buffa: Let’s say a young broadcaster walks in that door and needs advice, what do you tell them?Knott: The #1 thing is you have to be yourself. No is going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. I can’t be you. I think what happens is you see who is successful and you try to be them. If I can be like Bob Costas, I can do what he’s doing. That’s not it. If you are meant to be at the top, you’ll get there. You can tell when someone is pretending. Chris Berman at ESPN. Everybody tried to mimic his home run call, and that’s not what people want. They want the facts.I had a goof on the show last week and it was kind of ruining my weekend. I went on Facebook and wrote about it, being open and honest. The response back was people understood. People just want to know people. They’ll take the faults if you are being you. When you are you, they root for you.Buffa: Any stories about Frank Cusumano?Knott: Ha! We don’t have time. I’ll tell you something about our sports department. Without Frank, there wouldn’t be a lifeblood, a passion, a commitment, there wouldn’t be most stories about St. Louis being told. He’s been here and he loves it. If you watch everybody do sports, you’ll see highlights, but you won’t see the story.

For some people, it’s a job. For Frank, it’s his life. That’s the dividing line. Frank won’t do a story unless a part of his heart is in the story. There’s something in him that makes him have to do it.

At this time, the pizza came to the table. A double-decker pizza that Rene looked at like a man would look at a conquest. The interview was wrapping up, and we ate our delicious food. Pictures were taken, social media was utilized, and our waitress would smile.That’s Rene. A man of the people, he makes you smile and laugh while teaching you how the path you choose in life for a career can define the person you are. How the route he chose-broadcasting over football-led him down a path that made him truly appreciate people and ultimately become their voice.What started out as an interview ended up being a conversation between two guys who love their city and want to do everything they can to help and defend it. When I left the interview, I felt empowered and ready to tackle life.That’s what talking to Rene Knott will do to you. He’ll fire you up with his enthusiasm.

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