KNBR’s Avid Sports Host Brian Murphy Gushes Over Life in Mill Valley
A morning radio host talks about how he got started in the business, his most-famous interview and why he loves Mill Valley.
CALLING BRIAN MURPHY affable is like calling Fred Astaire graceful. On his morning sports talk show on KNBR that he co-hosts, Murphy charms his audience with deep knowledge and sly wit. And, most endearing to local folks, he talks about growing up in Marin.
His parents moved from Oakland to Reed Street in Mill Valley in 1961. “A colleague told my dad he had visited a little town called Mill Valley over the weekend, and that it looked like a wonderful place to raise a family. When they went to visit, they agreed, ‘This is it.’ I owe it all to that conversation.”
Why Mill Valley? “There are practical and ethereal reasons,” he says. “Practically, it’s a no-brainer. First of all, Mill Valley has what every family looks for — a sound public school system. Plus Mill Valley is safe and secure.” Murphy commutes to his 6-to-10-a.m. “Murph & Mac” radio show five days a week, so proximity to San Francisco is another plus.
“Then there are the ethereal reasons that I share with everyone who has fallen in love with southern Marin. It’s not just the overwhelming natural beauty, but how that beauty is incorporated into your life. It feeds your soul. The silhouette of Mount Tam grounds you.”
Are the Mill Valley schools different now? “That’s a cultural question,” he says. “We were smaller [as a community], there were fewer kids.” Now he finds a “significant increase in parental involvement.” Also, “the biggest deal now is money. When I went to school here, we didn’t have to fundraise and rely on KIDDO! to have music and PE classes.
Both sons, Declan and Rory, now 10 and 6, play basketball and, thanks to their mother’s influence, they swim, but baseball is their number-one sport. In fact, Murphy says one of the greatest things about being back in town is coaching his sons’ Little League teams at Boyle Park, “the most unchanged thing about the Mill Valley experience, wonderfully unchanged. Boyle Park on a spring evening.” That experience is exactly how he lived it, how he remembers living it.
Not everything has stayed the same in Mill Valley, he admits. “But you can say that about everywhere in the Bay Area. Burlingame, Orinda, Petaluma, they are all affected by the growing disparity of income in American society. When I was a kid, I knew a kid whose father was a baker at Safeway. Now the dads are fund managers. Mill Valley used to be able to sustain both [types of] families. Now just one.”
Sports wasn’t the only thing on Murphy’s mind while he was growing up. His journalism career began at Tam High. “I was news editor of the Tam News my senior year, in 1985, under Dick Fregulia, renowned local jazz pianist — my first journalism gig.” From there, he wrote sports for the Mill Valley Record in the spring of 1985, his first sports bylines, typed up on his dad’s old 1949 typewriter and slid under the door of the Record office on Miller Avenue.
After college, Murphy wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, ESPN.com and Yahoo! sports. He was covering golf for the Chronicle in the Tiger Woods era and writing feature stories when KNBR came calling. He started there in February 2004, and general manager Tony Salvadore immediately teamed him up with Paul McCaffrey.
Who listens now? “Families, people getting ready for the day, parents driving kids to school, commuters stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, truck drivers who are on the road all the time looking for something to take their minds off the drive.” KNBR’s program director won’t give actual listener numbers for the popular show but says they’re “astonishingly high.” In 2017 Radio Ink magazine named it one of the country’s top 10 best sports radio shows.
The ease of Brian Murphy’s Monday-to-Friday commute is one of the practical pluses of living in Mill Valley. “Everyone should be so lucky. There are six other cars on the road when I leave home at 4:50 a.m.” What does he listen to on the drive? “I start with ESPN radio 4:50 a.m. to 4:55, NPR 4:55 to the top of the hour, Adam Copeland on KNBR until I get to work.”
And on the way home: “KNBR, to see if Gary and Larry have something we didn’t cover, then Howard Stern on Sirius — he is the master, the greatest revolutionary in radio. He created a family, a neighborhood, he brings his life to the air. And I listen to music, all kinds.”
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Sporting Life.”