Sports reporter discusses the challenges of pandemic reporting
AJ McCord is currently the sports reporter for KOIN in Portland, where she’s lived for more than three years. McCord grew up in San Diego and went to college at Point Loma Nazarene. She studied broadcasting there and did many internships, including one for Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Enberg. We sat down to talk to her via Zoom about how her work has changed since COVID-19 and how she got into the business.
The Clackamas Print: How has the pandemic affected your reporting?
AJ McCord: It’s really forced me to be creative and to be more reliant on the relationships that I’ve built because the teams and the league’s aren’t coordinating availability as much. Especially in those March, April, May months, when we really didn’t know what was going on, you know, I can’t just stop because there’s no live sports going on. It really forced me to be creative. I was able to do like a quarantine chronicles series where I talked to six or seven of the guys on the Blazers and got to know them just on a much different, deeper level. And that was super fun. And then, you know, got to catch up with Sabrina and some of the WNBA women, like Satau and Ruthie and so, it’s obviously not something that I wished had happened, but I worked really hard to make sure that you know, people still got sports stories from me and they were stories that that mattered and that lifted people up and and made them smile, hopefully, in a hard time.
TCP: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to be a sports broadcaster?
McCord: Yeah, I was an athlete my whole life so I never really imagined doing anything outside of it. I have one of those notes from when I was eight that said I was going to go to the Olympics for gymnastics, and that I was going to play in the NFL, then I was going to play in the MLB and then I can’t remember what came after that, but I’m sure I had something. It was always sports for me. I do remember when I was 16 and we were watching Thanksgiving football, I saw a sideline reporter and I think it was Andrea Kremer. Now that I’ve been in the business, it was either Andrea or maybe Alex Flanagan, but two of, just like, the titans for women in sports broadcasting. They were sideline for the Jets and the Bengals, I believe it was when Ochocinco was still playing. So I remember specifically like one, the sideline reporter telling some story about what they were doing for Thanksgiving or, you know, some like little nugget that you do as a sideline reporter. And that was the first time that I was like, oh, this is a job and this is something that I could do. From that moment, I really went crazy because I was 16 and so I was clearly not going to the Olympics for gymnastics, you know that by then, and so from there, I started calling high school games, I started writing for my school paper. It really was like an instant flip from the moment that I was like, oh, this is something women can do, too. What do I need to do to do this?
TCP: You used Linkedin to get your first job?
McCord: I was at a friend’s birthday party in Orange County and met someone who worked for Universal Sports and she mentioned something like, “Oh, they’re hiring for Denver. For the Sochi Games, they’re hiring contract workers.” So I found a producer on LinkedIn and messaged him and that’s how I got my first job.
TCP: How did you get the job at KOIN?
McCord: Yeah, that’s kind of a God thing. My contract was up in Arkansas and my husband is actually in medical school, so he was choosing between a few medical school options, and one of them was in Oregon. And we kind of looked at the map and said, you know, we want to be back on the west coast. We’d met in Colorado. We love the outdoors. And we really enjoyed our three years in Arkansas, because his family is there. And that was a blessing to be able to, you know, get to know them on a sort of day in day out basis. But we knew we wanted to head back West. And so, he got into school in Oregon, and I went crazy applying for jobs everywhere from Portland to Eugene to I think I applied for jobs at Oregon State, at the University of Oregon. I mean, like everywhere. And KOIN called me back and I had a part- time job. And so I started out part-time with them. I think I was doing two or three days a week. And then after about five or six months, they hired me full time, and I’ve been there ever since.
TCP: How was the internship with Dick Enberg for the Padres?
McCord: It was awesome. He became like a second grandpa to me. He was just the sweetest man and I learned so much about storytelling and note taking and preparation from him. I was at the ballpark every single home game three hours before the game started and up to an hour afterward. It’s always kind of nerve wracking when you first meet, or first work with a legend like that, cause you just hope that they match what you have in your head and he didn’t just match it, he exceeded it.
TCP: What is your favorite sport to broadcast live?
McCord: I grew up a football girl, so football is always really fun for me. My mom and my grandma were diehard San Diego Chargers fans. So we went to every home game, we went to training camp every year, I learned about the game of football from those two. So, football will always sort of be a first love for me. But the NBA is also amazing and I really love that league. And, just like the players that I’ve gotten to meet. And then I’ve spent three years in SEC country, so I love college football. And then of course, the gymnast in me is always going to love gymnastics and snowboarding and outdoor sports. If there’s something on I’m probably watching it, much to my husband’s dismay.
TCP: What is your favorite game you’ve broadcasted live?
McCord: I was a sideline reporter for the Colorado high school football state championships the year that Christian McCaffrey’s team won it. So that was a lot of fun, because you already knew the kid was going to be fearless, and he was so kind and it was my very first sideline job. And one of the women, actually that I’d met through the Padres, had gotten me the job so that was just kind of a really big full circle. You know, first step I guess you could say for me. But since I’ve been at KOIN, the 2019 blazers playoff run is like the most exhausted and the most exhilarated that I’ve ever been in my entire life because it was so long, and I did my own pregame show and I was in almost every show that was on air, you know, I mean, it was just crazy, but it was so so fun. And then the Ducks Rose Bowl this year was also a blast. And then I got to do the Seahawks–Packers NFC divisional round in January. And that was like, just sort of a bucket list for me covering a NFL playoff game at Lambeau Field was like, you know, that’s just something I dreamed about.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.