The Kurtenbloggers (Mike Halford and Jason Brough) were blogosphere pioneers in a number of ways. Not only were they the first mainstream Canucks blog, but they were among the first off-beat, fan perspective hockey blogs to be affiliated with a mainstream daily news publication. As the years went by, these “Jackasses from the Interweb,” moved onto the TEAM1040 where, for many Canucks fans, they made for can’t miss radio. But you know all this.
In this conversation from Friday afternoon, the Kurtenbloggers flesh out some of their most memorable moments, divulge the secret to making Jason Botchford bring his “insane game,” and discuss moving onto their new project over at NBC Sports’ Pro Hockey Talk blog.
Mike Halford: We started it when we were working together at an on-line gambling company. We were working for one of the on-line magazines they had going, and we had a lot of downtime because we wrote for an online gambling company. So I think it was in 07 in August and we were really bored one day and went out for lunch (and we took really long lunches at the time, I think we were gone for two hours). So over lunch we said, “Well hey, what do you think about starting a Canucks blog?” We thought, well okay, we are both pretty big Canucks fans and we had a lot of the same opinions and found a lot of the same stuff funny.
So we came back to the office and literally came up with the name in about twenty minutes, we were just throwing out stuff and as soon as we said it, (and I think I said it) we knew right away, “yep that’s it, perfect.”
We started on blogspot, and Jason already had a pre-existing relationship with the Province, because he was writing a weekly column for them. So that was kind of our in. Erik Rolfsen approached us at first and asked us if we wanted to be hosted on the canada.com network, get us a little bit of a bigger profile. We were like “yeah sure.”
Drance: How quickly were you affiliated with the Province after starting out?
Jason Brough: Honestly it’s all kind of blurred together, we’d have to look at time-lines…
Halford: It wasn’t long, it was less than a year. The thing was, we knew a few people in the media industry because of the jobs we’d been doing, so it wasn’t that hard to get it out there. So once people started reading it… The Province really did take a shot in the dark though, because they didn’t have anything like it before, it was kind of new.
So we became affiliated with them in 07, they started hosting us, and then things just kind of progressed from there. We started off treating it as a sideline gig, then we took it more seriously and started updating it more as time went on. It all just kind of happened organically, we never set out with a plan to start this blog and turn it into a career – it just kind of happened.
Drance: Obviously your most trafficked day had to be the day you guys posted the Patrick Kane photos, can you describe what that day was like?
Halford: For some reason we were using Yahoo which is pretty much the most backwards e-mail client ever. I didn’t check it all that often, and for some reason that morning I checked it to see if we’d gotten anything in the last few days. And this guy had sent an e-mail saying, you know, “one of my friends posted a bunch of pictures on her facebook of what she’d done this weekend.” And he’d recognized Patrick Kane right away.
So we got the pictures and we had an internal debate for about an hour about whether we should run it or not, and we checked with all the editors at the paper (Jonathan, Paul and Erik) and they gave us the green light. We checked to make sure there was no libel or anything…
Brough: We also didn’t know if we wanted to do it!
Halford: Yeah we didn’t know if we wanted to be “those guys”. But at the end of the day we looked at it and it’s just some guys, some young hockey players (though John Madden was like 36 at the time) out having fun. It wasn’t anything malicious, dirty or offensive. So we thought, “yeah what the hell, we’ll go with it.” We didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a pretty big storm for the next forty-eight hours.
Once Wyshynski posted it on puck-daddy that blew the top off it. We were getting a lot of phone calls from various media outlets, I remember I got a call from the NBC television affiliate in Chicago as well as the Chicago Sun-Times asking, “where I got the pictures from, why did you decide to run them, are there any other ones, can we get more?!” Just that kind of stuff. We knew it was big because the Hawks had become such a big story in Chicago.
Brough: And you have to remember, the Hawks were such a young team, and there were already concerns about the fact that they were, “partying too much.” And now you had visual evidence that these guys were out partying. But you look at it, and Mike and I knew people would react to this, but I don’t think we knew it was going to a news story.
The way we looked at it, it was like, “yeah the guys are out for a night, we’ve all had big nights like that.” What was kind of surprising, well not surprising but I found it funny, was that there were so many people who thought that the Blackhawks players were doing something wrong. Like, “oh no they’re in the back of the limo with their shirts-off!” Yeah so what! They’re hockey players, that looks like fun!
Halford: Yeah, the moral indignation was messed up. I fail to see anything in the pictures where I was like “okay this is potentially damaging” to any of their careers, it was pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things.
Brough: Pretty harmless? It was completely harmless! The worst thing about the pictures, and the one thing I’d do differently if we could do it again, would be to block out the pictures of the girls. Because the abuse those girls took was completely unfair.
Halford: Yeah that wasn’t cool.
Brough: Totally unfair, just people going on, and putting them down for their looks… It was pathetic, it was like the worst part of the Internet. But otherwise, you know, it was pretty funny, and looking back it’s funny when I hear people still bringing it up. Like people in the Chicago media going “oh these guys, they used to have an “issue” with partying!” Come on, give me a break!
Halford: I will tell you it took 72 hours for that post to become the most viewed story in the history of the Province website.
Brough: I should also mention that there was a moment of terror, when we thought “oh my god they might be photoshopped.”
Halford: Yeah a lot of people accused us of photoshopping them, but then as that happened, the Blackhawks issued a statement saying “we’re going to handle this internally.” So that kind of verified that the photos were legit. So that took some of the heat off, but just as the story was getting really big, there was a moment of pure panic.
Drance: What was the worst piece of hate mail you got over that post?
Halford: Well the way that we handled it wasn’t sinister or mean, we were just having a laugh. The title of the post was, “The Blackhawks Prove that Mugging in a Limo with your Shirts off isn’t a Questionable Move At Best,” and then in the post we said “is it that hard to believe that these guys get smoked in Vancouver, (I think they lost 5-1) and then they went out and had a night?” We basically put them up to say “we found these, we didn’t think it was a big deal but we think they’re funny.”
Sure a lot of people got mad, there was the usual sort of crazy Internet conspiracy theory stuff “oh you guys are from Vancouver and this is all some sort of big plot involving the Illuminati and the Da Vinci code…” But after a while it became a conversation people had with each other that wasn’t really directed at us. So we didn’t catch a lot of flack, I think some people in Chicago were kind of upset just because of the rivalry, but again it wasn’t really directed at us.
Drance: What’s the most memorable Canucks game you’ve seen live?
Halford: The overtime game against Dallas in the first round in 2007. That was funny because they still cut off booze with 18 minutes to go in the third period. So you have two minutes into the third period to get beers, basically. And they don’t re-rationalize it regardless of how long the game goes.
Brough: Yeah cause about half the people had left.
Halford: We didn’t get out of there until something like one o’clock in the morning, it was nuts. I mean they were running out of food at the concessions. I think it was the only time that Brough and I did like a high-ten to celebrate a game, and we looked at each other afterwards and were like “let us never speak of that again.”
Halford: At that point you were just happy that the game was over. Looking back at it, it was really cool to be a part of it, but at the time it was like whatever, “they play again in twelve hours, we better get some sleep.”
Brough: I think there were three scoring chances in the entire game…
Halford: That was the other thing, there was basically four full over-time periods of nothingness, and then the occasional chance…
Drance: So I’m curious as to how you transitioned from being bloggers into having your own radio show. What was the process by which KB radio came about?
Brough: It was just a phone-call. That’s all it is. I kind of knew someone at the station, we made the call, we went in there and we had a chat.
Halford: And they were familiar with our work because of the Province. I don’t know if we’d have been able to get in there if we hadn’t had that foothold. We knew at some point that we wanted to diversify and get into as many platforms and mediums as possible.
The chronology of it went: we were doing half hour appearances on Blake’s old evening show, the one that ran from 6-10. And we’d dutifully drive down to the station for 9:30 and go into studio and do the hit, and try to learn as much as we could in that short period of time. We did that for a while, and kept pushing the envelope and asking if we could do our own show. And Rob Gray who was the program director at the time said “we have this killer time-slot at 9 o’clock in the morning on Sunday.” The debut show was in 09, it was the week before the Cardinals-Steelers Superbowl.
Then it was the same thing, you put everything on hold, you curb back your Saturday night plans, because you know you have to do a show early Sunday morning, and we just kept cranking it out…
Brough: And we sucked.
Halford: Yeah we were terrible. But after a while we figured it out enough so that we weren’t like “we’re just going to fold up shop and go away,” there was enough potential there.
Drance: What was your favorite memory doing KB radio, is there a show that sticks out to you?
Brough: It was probably the show after the Canucks lost game 7 to the Bruins… It was surreal, first the Canucks had blown the Stanley Cup Final. A week before we’d gone on the radio and said “The Canucks are going to win the cup, I don’t see how Boston is going to win four of the last five games…” And then it all went so sideways, so amazingly.
Halford: Yeah there were so many people being blamed it was like: hockey, anarchists; and we thought “well there’s some people who haven’t been blamed yet.” So we started blaming Marilyn Manson and rap-music.
Brough: Yeah we had people chiming in on twitter, giving their own ideas. And it was completely goofy and completely insane, and I’m sure there were people listening who wanted nothing to do with laughing at the whole situation. Whether it was the fact that the Canucks lost game seven, or this sad-sack franchise that finally had their chance and couldn’t get it done… But that was probably the most memorable because a lot of people e-mailed in and said that it actually helped them get over it.
Halford: Jason’s right, that was probably the best show we’ve ever done, or at least the most memorable. The big thing was, we didn’t have to say too much, we just approached it the way we approach everything else. We thought “lets just have some fun with it.” Everything for the last 24 hours had such a gravitas about it, like “oh my god everything is so serious and so terrible!” And really, what can we possibly add to that conversation? We couldn’t, right?
I mean we were downtown during the riot. We were at the game working, and the second we got out we were right in the thick of it, trying to get Jason’s car out of the downtown core. So we were probably in a position to give the serious, somber perspective, as much as anyone. But at that point we realized “that’s not what people are listening to us for,” they want a different perspective.
Drance: Just a good gallows humour moment.
Brough: And that’s exactly what it was…
Drance: A couple of weeks ago I hosted Jason Botchford on the CanucksArmy podcast, and I failed to get him to yell at me. I was wondering if you guys could let me in on the secret that allowed you to always get Botch so fired up?
Brough: Talk about Luongo!
Halford: Have a radio show on at ten o’clock at night that nobody listens to!
Drance: Oh I totally have a show (or a podcast) that no one listens to…
Halford: Yeah, the great thing about Botch when he came on our show was that he “got it” right away. I think a lot of the stuff he wouldn’t necessarily want to say on another person’s show, he’d say on our show. Which was great. Brough and him had a good rapport on the phone together. It was always fun, and for whatever reason that just clicked. People would always write in and let us know that they couldn’t wait to hear Botch on KB radio, and I think he had a lot of fun with it too.
Brough: Yeah I think so too, what probably happened is that he got fired up once, and everyone said how funny it was, so the next time he came back he knew he had to bring his insane game.
Drance: It was great. What’s the biggest shift in the way you work now that you’re writing for a national audience?
Brough: The biggest shift is just that we’re no longer focused on the Canucks. That’s probably about it, and it’s been a little bit refreshing to tell you the truth. There’s just so many other stories in the NHL that are compelling.
We’ve been really lucky in that the Canucks have had definitely the most newsworthy stretch of their history while we were blogging about them, and we had the Olympics and everything…
But there are so many other stories in the NHL, and it’s nice to sink your teeth into that. Because after a while the same stories, writing about the Canucks third line over and over again, gets a little hard to sink your teeth into. Especially as bloggers, when you’re a reporter and you’re going down to the rink and talking to people, it’s probably a bit different, but it’s nice to talk about things other than the Canucks.
Drance: Finally because everyone is dying to know, do you guys have any plans to reinvigorate your legendary “KB Chats” in a new format.
Brough: Man we took a lot of heat for not doing those as much… But the thing is they were so work intensive, you wouldn’t believe it. Just the time it took to do them and format it and such… So no, no immediate plans for that sort of thing, but I think it was fun while it lasted.
At the end of the day we felt like we’d gone through our jokes on that, and to be honest with you it became a chore. Maybe down the line we’ll do a fun one, but to reinvigorate it and do it consistently? I don’t think so.
Drance: Definitely better to play it like that than like David Letterman, banging out top-10s even though he clearly hates it. Thanks so much guys, that was great.
Halford: Hey no problem, good luck with the contest.
Drance: Thanks, congratulations on all your success, and keep killing it.
Brough: Thanks man.