Lengthy earlier than Leila Rahimi was named 2022 Illinois Sportscaster of the Yr, she was a teenage lady calling in to her native sports activities radio station. However she wasn’t simply calling in as a fan and avid listener, she was creating the lane to her future.
“I had been calling in to the Dallas Cowboys postgame present on 570 KLIF beginning once I was a freshman as a result of I cherished watching the Cowboys, after which I began recording utilizing a cassette,” Rahimi advised the Tribune. “As soon as I had a physique of labor collectively, I submitted it to attempt to get a sports activities broadcasting scholarship within the title of Mark Holtz, the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers broadcaster.”
It was round that point she met Matt Pinto, then a play-by-play announcer with the Mavericks. He gave her his card and requested if she can be concerned about interning. After all she was. Not solely did Rahimi win the radio scholarship, however she interned at KLIF the summer time after she graduated from highschool.
“She talked about her love for sports activities generally and she or he was dedicated, and so I simply intuitively kind of bought it,” recalled Pinto, now the radio voice of the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder. “I felt like she was very honest and genuine in how she offered herself. She lower up play-by-play audio for use on air and different issues that had been wanted production-wise across the broadcast. She was very prepared and jumped in and was actually a go-getter.”
Rahimi has come a great distance from these days. In January 2021 she turned the primary girl to often host a sports activities radio speak present in Chicago when she teamed with longtime host Dan Bernstein on WSCR-AM 670. Her promotion to an on a regular basis host broke a 29-year gender barrier on The Rating, and the “Bernstein & Rahimi Present” rose to the highest of native listeners’ favourite sports activities speak exhibits.
Then in March 2022, WMAQ-Ch. 5 named Rahimi its foremost sports activities anchor — the primary girl to be named to that place on the NBC affiliate.
“It’s type of flattering,” she mentioned. “It’s additionally type of unhappy as a result of it shouldn’t have taken this lengthy. And I’m so glad that individuals had been embracing the thought, however I believe when higher, you do higher.
“I really feel that means in regards to the business in some respects as a result of it is a metropolis that embraces ahead considering, embraces totally different voices and embraces totally different views. A girl can speak about sports activities on the radio and tv. We’ll all be OK.”
Earlier this month, the Nationwide Sports activities Media Affiliation named Rahimi a co-winner of the Illinois Sportscaster of the Yr. The dignity appeared to validate what mates of Rahimi had recognized all alongside — together with the person who gave her his enterprise card all these years in the past.
“I’m simply extremely proud to see what she’s finished since and really feel a fantastic sense of — I don’t know … , I’m a dad. So it’s nearly like there’s pleasure,” Pinto mentioned. “She at all times had the tenacity about how she approached issues and clearly a love for sports activities that has undoubtedly developed and developed.”
Along with her curiosity in radio as a teen, Rahimi labored her means from assistant sports activities editor to editor-in-chief of her highschool paper. She had grown up watching, studying and listening to ladies in Dallas sports activities media comparable to Gloria Campos, Clarice Tinsley and Susie Woodhams. They had been ladies she admired and studied. She appreciated them for various causes — however they had been all doing what she needed to do.
“I didn’t have a Plan B,” Rahimi mentioned of her chosen profession path.
Rahimi labored her means via school at North Texas, and her ardour for sports activities and broadcasting propelled her ahead.
“I needed to be a journalist, and on the time there have been so many alternatives,” she mentioned. “We had been being advised at North Texas that there was by no means a greater time if you happen to needed to be a reporter otherwise you needed to be in broadcasting.
“The business has modified lots since then. However it simply appeared like if you happen to had the dedication that it could be an excellent profession.”
Earlier than touchdown in Chicago, Rahimi labored in Dallas, Austin, San Diego, Houston and Philadelphia. She did every kind of jobs, from part-time radio reporter to tv to writing. Typically the 5-foot-3 Rahimi, working alone, would carry 75 kilos of kit to cowl a soccer recreation.
“You’re carrying massive, heavy TV tools, you’re making an attempt to do work and also you marvel in case your work goes to repay,” she mentioned.
Rahimi prides herself on understanding do all of it, and it has helped her in each place at each cease. She approaches her job the best way one would with something they love: She doesn’t simply speak about it, she research it.
Rahimi says she spends a minimal of eight hours a day — and typically as many as 11 — learning what’s occurring in native and nationwide sports activities. She retains a pocket book of the entire issues she observes and needs to speak about.
“One of the simplest ways is to only watch extra video games,” she mentioned. “And it’s the toughest means as a result of it requires probably the most effort and time, however it’s to me the easiest way of learning and absorbing what you want about every group.
“Jen Lada and I talked sooner or later about how she prepares for her exhibits in Milwaukee. And she or he gave me some nice recommendation on how she information and thinks about watching a recreation. If there’s a query you’ve whereas watching the sport, ensure you jot it right down to ensure you’re at all times acutely aware about the way you’re processing the sport as a result of these are issues that you may herald a section later. Shea Peppler’s given me some suggestions when it got here to examine primarily based on TV backgrounds to then carry that to the radio aspect.”
It is sensible that somebody who grew up a Texas soccer fan would have the ability to match the vitality of Chicago.
Rahimi has embedded herself into the sports activities tradition right here and she or he has help — not simply from followers however from colleagues. Whereas Rahimi was working at NBC Sports activities Chicago as a number and sideline reporter, she did occasional segments with Laurence Holmes and realized they’d a pure chemistry. It was Holmes who steered she make weekly visits on his radio present on The Rating.
“We joke that we name it the month-to-month customer ‘trigger I wish to make jokes,” she mentioned. “Toilet humor is for everybody so far as I’m involved. That’s the place the section got here from. After which Danny Parkins had me on as a co-host a few instances. After which David Haugh. And that’s once I began making an attempt to do as a lot as I may in that area.”
Her weekly visits on The Rating had been a hit. Some individuals tuned in as a result of they cherished her, some as a result of they didn’t. “However they had been listening,” she joked.
Rahimi’s recognition grew. She was somebody individuals may relate to. She was humorous, charming and good. She was a fan.
“I at all times loved the radio aspect of it, the artistic aspect,” she mentioned. “I just like the shared experiences. I additionally attempt to take the method that I’m nonetheless a fan, so I attempt to be honest and respectful. They are saying don’t learn the feedback, however the motive I do is as a result of it lets me study extra in regards to the individuals I’m making an attempt to serve.
“I at all times like speaking in regards to the offensive line as a soccer fan, even once I was in highschool and school. However the ardour for the Bears offensive line right here is one thing that’s fairly wonderful. And I’ve gotten to study it due to guys like Tom Thayer and Olin Kreutz and the way individuals embrace the offensive linemen on this city. So I’m like, OK, I’m undoubtedly leaning into that bit. Let’s speak about who’s a part of the guard and sort out rotation as a result of it’s one thing individuals wish to speak about. I like that stuff.”
As a part of her TV duties for NBC, Rahimi coated the 2018 Winter Olympics, reporting on the ladies’s hockey event in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It’s a possibility she refers to as “certainly one of my proudest moments of my profession.”
However it hasn’t all been roses for Rahimi, who skilled two layoffs six years aside. The primary was in 2014 from Comcast SportsNet Houston, the opposite in August 2020 when she was laid off from her full-time job at NBC Sports Chicago after 5 years with the regional community.
“It was the second time that I had been laid off reasonably publicly at that time,” Rahimi mentioned. “Over three years and eight months I lived in so many cities. I went coast to coast and I used to be emotionally drained.”
This time she determined to remain in Chicago.
“To outlive,” she mentioned.
After NBCSCH downsized, Rahimi was open to new alternatives. Mitch Rosen, the overall supervisor of The Rating, reached out about doing common work and it grew from there.
“I used to be like, ‘Certain, let’s do that!’ as a result of I don’t have the rest to do proper now,” she mentioned. “And I believe in TV, particularly as a girl in sports activities, you simply type of know that you simply’re on borrowed time. In some unspecified time in the future, your profession goes to be over earlier than your male counterparts, and that’s been the historical past.
“It wasn’t like (radio) was some kind of backup plan. This was a means for me to remain in Chicago and study new abilities and work with individuals I already know.”
Rahimi knew the setback was a setup for a comeback. And she or he rebounded in an epic means with the groundbreaking pairing with Bernstein.
“There have been individuals who had been questioning whether or not having a girl within the function the place she’s giving her opinion would work, and Leila doesn’t again down,” Holmes mentioned. “I bear in mind seeing among the numbers. Individuals responded to her in a means that made me so completely satisfied. And it made me really feel like we had gotten as far as sports activities radio in Chicago.
“They wish to hear what Leila’s opinion was, understanding that she was sitting in a chair throughout from a man who has robust opinions and isn’t afraid to share them. To me, that’s the place I really feel like her biggest impression has occurred. She’s modified the sport and the way sports activities radio in Chicago seems to be. There have been different ladies who’ve hosted. Maggie Hendricks, Julie DiCaro, Peggy Kusinski and Dionne Miller are on the market now doing nice stuff. However this was day by day.
“The highlight that was on her was so brilliant and the stress was so massive, and the best way that she was capable of deal with that and never simply survive however thrive has been one of the spectacular issues that I’ve seen in our business. Seeing her win is so gratifying.”
In October 2021, Rahimi returned to tv on NBC-5 as a part-time substitute for Siafa Lewis, who had left for his hometown of Philadelphia. Lower than 5 months later, she was despatched to cowl the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, this time reporting on each males’s and ladies’s hockey.
However her comeback wasn’t full. As soon as once more she made historical past with the full-time anchor job at NBC-5. And she or he nonetheless drops in together with her colleagues at The Rating every Wednesday on the top-rated “Bernstein & Holmes Present.”
“Leila is a real expertise. And she or he deserves all of it,” mentioned Kevin Cross, NBC-5′s president and basic supervisor. “Leila has the power to do radio. She has the power to do TV. She’s a robust author. And what I’ve at all times tried to encourage Leila to do is to not restrict herself in any a kind of classes.
“This previous yr she has actually unleashed all of her abilities to the world, and I really like the truth that she’s been acknowledged for it.”
Whereas she did take a second to rejoice the Sportscaster of the Yr award, Rahimi hasn’t forgotten the issues she has felt, realized and skilled. She says the work continues for girls within the business.
“I simply hope it continues to be full of alternatives,” she mentioned. “A part of the onerous half in regards to the layoffs and the pandemic when it associated to sports activities was, for instance, when networks mentioned we don’t wish to have sideline reporters. So a lot of these jobs had been held by ladies. So when these choices are being made, I fear that it’s going to take quite a lot of alternatives away.
“As we proceed to be extra current, it’s my hope that it simply turns into primarily based on what your work is. That it’s not simply primarily based on a labeled identification that’s straightforward for anyone to verify a field on a kind.”