Believe it or not, the city of Perry has a national star in its midst, a local household name that bears the bright lights of the national stage on a near weekly basis.
The interesting twist is you won’t be able to simply pick him out of a crowd. This humble hero doesn’t talk about himself much, and would rather hear what you have to say and what’s happening with friends, family, and the city of Perry. He’s a big part of the lively Perry culture and a great family man.
Who is this mystery star? Well, it’s none other than Perry’s own Shawn Kenney. Most of us know Shawn as the exciting voice heard during Perry High School athletic broadcasts and every day with sports stories on 1310 AM KDLS and Raccoon Valley Radio. What some of us locally don’t know about Shawn, is his presence on the national stage as a sports play-by-play announcer for ESPN.
While this 1999 University of Iowa Broadcast Journalism graduate enters his 20th year as the sports director for Raccoon Valley Radio, he also entertains his tenth year as a sports television play-by-play announcer for ESPN. Since his first stint with the sports powerhouse back in 2008, Kenney has been broadcasting all across the sports landscape covering college sports such as football, softball, and basketball; as well as, track and field, tennis, and ultimate, not to mention the NCAA and ACC wrestling championships.
There’s certainly no doubt that there’s been a lot of bright lights in Kenney’s tenure with ESPN, but no matter what has gone on, he has never forgotten where it all started.
“Initially I never thought about television broadcasting and I didn’t apply for the job or anything like that,” began Kenney. “A lot of credit for getting my foot in the door goes to the former Iowa State wrestling coach and former Edward Jones advisor here in town Jim Gibbons, he was the key. Jim would help us out with our local state wrestling coverage on KDLS where we do non-stop play-by-play wrestling coverage on the radio which was pretty rare at the time.”
Kenney went on to further explain how Gibbons helped him usher in an era with ESPN.
“Jim was approached by ESPN around ten years ago about trying to bring the NCAA wrestling championships to ESPN,” said Kenney. “That first year Jim and I covered all eight mats similar to what we do with (Iowa High School) state wrestling. Jim gave ESPN my name as a guy to bring in on that, and he introduced me to a producer at ESPN, and after that first year of wrestling coverage I was asked if I do other sports and it really took off from there.”
The big stage and bright lights can certainly be an alluring factor in eating up ones time and schedule, but in the case of Kenney, he has never wavered from his duties to his local community.
“I’m a big loyalty guy,” said Kenney. “I always make it a point to separate the ESPN side of things from the Perry and KDLS side of things, otherwise it’s easy to get lost and that makes it harder to perform duties on both sides to the fullest.”
It’s not just the way he’s effectively managed his time, but in an ever changing world, Kenney’s constant professionalism has remained something that those who know him best deem as one of his best qualities. One such person would be none other than Perry’s own JP Hulgan.
“The biggest thing with Shawn is that he hasn’t changed,” said Hulgan. “Whether he’s covering a junior high basketball game or a national college football game, he’s always care free and professional. That’s just Shawn, he’s always been Shawn and hasn’t changed. If you just met Shawn at Friday Fest, you wouldn’t know he was an ESPN broadcaster. He just goes about his thing and is more focused on others.”
The world of sports broadcasting can be very fickle and broadcasters often have their hands full simply being in radio or simply being in television. Then there comes along the likes of Kenney who have managed to excel in both fields. It’s that consistent excellence on both sides that makes what many deem as unprecedented, as more of a regular outing for Shawn and an expectation for Hulgan.
“I think it’s awesome but when I initially found out I wasn’t really surprised,” began Hulgan. “I may have caught on a little earlier than others due to the wrestling connection but in the end, that’s just what Shawn does.”
With the variety of ways to tackle one industry, Shawn talked about how he manages to navigate both television and radio with such ease.
“Initially, handling both television and radio was my biggest challenge,” said Kenney. “Over the years I’ve found that it’s important to separate both because they have different approaches. With radio, the broadcaster is driving the action and so I have to be a little more descriptive. With television, my mantra has always been less is more. With certain sports I cover such as tennis and track, I lay out and let the action do the talking.”
While the balancing act between radio and television has brought its fair share of challenges to the veteran broadcaster, as Kenney mentions, one of his most prevalent challenges involves the prep work at the television level.
“When people ask what’s the difference between covering high school sports and college sports, I say preparation,” began Kenney. “With all the college sports I cover, I put in more preparation hours just because there’s more material out there to get for each individual athlete compared to a high school game. For the NCAA wrestling championships I have to memorize around 330 athletes while in football I have to put in anywhere between 35-40 hours of preparation work.”
Out of all that preparation work comes one ultimate goal for Kenney, “For every sport I will go ahead of time and Google every name, I’ll go to the local media, and gather as much information as I can so that when I show up to the event, I want the audience to get the impression that I’m an expert on each team,” mentioned Kenney.
That is exactly the impression that Kenney has given audiences across the years and certainly an impression that has always been passed on to Hulgan.
“Whether it’s football, wrestling, or baseball, he knows what he’s talking about and always has that little bit of information that you’re looking for,” stated Hulgan.
So whether it’s turning on the radio for some high school baseball action, or connecting with the NCAA wrestling championships on the television, chances are high that one might see or hear the likes of the great Shawn Kenney.