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Sports led Rob King to live in and love Pittsburgh

When it comes to sports broadcasts, Rob King has become the ultimate Swiss Army Knife. Commentating, hosting, and producing are all jobs in which King has worked on the long winding road to his current job as the studio host for Penguins and Pirates games on SportsNet Pittsburgh.

Growing up in the shadows of the baseball hall of fame near Cooperstown, New York, King was always a sports fanatic. Despite that, King got a English Literature degree before deciding to pursue his true passion of sports broadcasting.

“I was pumping gas at Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis, with my best friend. I said, ‘well, I can go to get my business degree’, and he said, ‘why don’t you do sports broadcasting? All you ever do or think about revolves around sports’, which is pretty much true to this day,” King said. “It never occurred to me that the people that were on TV were actors who are normal people. So, that very moment was how I got into the field.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, however. King’s school of Washington University in St. Louis didn’t have a Journalism degree, but luckily the class he took at a local Junior College helped him score an internship at a St. Louis area sports station.

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While working at his internship, King learned how to juggle responsibilities. He was putting in overtime to learn how to figure out editing and bussing tables while still trying to get an education.

“The news ended at 3 a.m. I had been there for eight hours at that point, and I’d be there at 3:30 in the morning trying to figure out how to put highlights together. Yeah, I had no clue. I was 24 and at school later than I should have been with lots of student loan debt, so I needed to get a job. That’s why I was working at 2:30 in the morning and getting up the next day and going to class and waiting tables and going back. I did whatever it took,” King said.

I was here for like maybe two months. I told my wife, ‘this is the greatest place on the planet.’ I don’t ever want to leave it. I love the passion of Pittsburgh sports, and I love the people of Pittsburgh.

— Rob King

While working at St. Louis, King slowly began to make the transition from being a producer to on-air talent. He was inexperienced early on but slowly but surely he became comfortable in front of the camera. King improved thanks in large part because he took every opportunity he was given, no matter how bizarre.

“I’ve done a ton of play by play. Name a sport, I’ve probably done it. That includes polo, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, baseball games, football games, and boxing matches. It’s hard for me to think of a sport that I haven’t done,” King said.

After leaving his internship, King undertook the daunting task of returning home to upstate New York and being a one man sports department in Utica.

“When you’re doing your sportscast in a small market like Utica, you are it. I was on my own there, I was their whole sports department. I was the sports director, the sports lackey, and the sports producer. I didn’t operate the camera, but, if they asked me to, I would’ve,” King said.

After working in Utica for five years King returned to St. Louis to work in a bizarre situation at a dual St. Louis and Pittsburgh sports station.

“(This is) kind of a convoluted story, but we were owned by Fox, and we did Pittsburgh and St. Louis sports simultaneously. So the theory was, because there’s an hour time difference, you can do one half hour about Pittsburgh then switch over to St. Louis,” King said.

Around the turn of the century, King traveled to Pittsburgh for the first time and it was love at first sight.

“I was here for like maybe two months. I told my wife, ‘this is the greatest place on the planet.’ So I don’t ever want to leave it,” King said, “And of course, I didn’t think that would happen, but, you know, I got lucky again. I love the passion of Pittsburgh sports, and I love the people of Pittsburgh.”

Fast forward 20 years and King is still in Pittsburgh and still in front of the camera. He has evolved from being nervous when the lights came on to being the host and fulcrum of multiple pre-game and post-game shows for the Penguins and Pirates.

King’s job as host has become in large part to make his co-hosts as entertaining as possible. Anyone can give surface-level answers, but King has become an expert of getting insightful answers out of his former athlete co-hosts.

King’s past experience around the production set allows him to be considerate of his co-hosts and the production staff who brings the whole show together.

“Producing gives you a good education on what everybody else does. So everything that goes on in the news for the show goes through the producer, and the sportscasters go through the producer, so the producer knows a little bit of what everybody is doing. That gave me empathy for what the next person is doing,” King said.

Being a sports commentator may seem like a sweet gig, but many sacrifices were made in order for King to reach the top of his field.

“The number one drawback for me was missing a lot of stuff that my kids did. It just got awful; before I woke up, my son or daughter would be getting on the school bus. I would leave for work before they got back, and then when I got home, they’d be asleep. It worsened to the point where we’d be spending a week in the same house and I wouldn’t see my kids,” King said.

All of this constant work in the field of sports may seem like overkill to some, but after talking to King, it’s clear that the man eats, sleeps and breathes sports with a passion most people could only dream of having for their jobs.

“It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because I love it. I still tell people that I wouldn’t change my job for anything, I wouldn’t change my life.” King said.

Even when King isn’t on the clock, he can’t help but fight the urge to analyze what he sees.

“I’ll be watching the Steelers game and I’ll be like, ‘oh, man, check this out,’ and when I start to do this my wife’s like, ‘oh my God, I don’t care.’ I get crazy with the TV. I’ll shuttle back and forth pointing at the TV when the Steelers line up in cover two,” King said.

There could be a chance that he won’t have to watch TV to see the Steelers in cover two. King has expressed interest in being the next radio play-by-play man for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the past, King has filled in for Bill Hillgrove, who recently retired, on the Steelers and Pitt Panthers radio broadcasts, so it’s not far-fetched to think it might happen.

“I’d love to. It was good for Bill Hillgrove to go out the way he wanted, so me and approximately 1.2 million other people would love to take over for him,” King joked.

Whether or not he gets the the Steelers job remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, King will be somewhere obsessing over sports.

“I’ve already alerted my wife that when I retire, we’re not going to be done with sports. It’s just that we might be done with American sports. I’m already looking into what English soccer team I should root for,” King said.

This story was originally published on The Oracle on May 19, 2024.