When C.J. Silas was 6 years old, her grandmother took her to her first Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, where she received an introduction to her all-time favorite player, barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson.
Having smashed through some ceilings of her own throughout a 20-year broadcasting career, Silas, 44, is still attending baseball games. Only these days, she’s the one giving the introductions.
One of few women to have hosted a nationally syndicated network sports talk radio show, Silas left her last stop, San Luis Obispo station ESPN 1280, in 2008 to work on a book of memoirs and her marriage.
She’s stayed active in the community by volunteering and working for the local Red Cross and by skating for Central Coast Roller Derby.
Though off the air since she stopped appearing on 1280’s “Sports Bite,” Silas can still be heard as the public address announcer for the Cal Poly baseball team, which returns home to face Long Beach State tonight after a two-week Big West Conference road trip.
Recently divorced and happily employed full time by the Red Cross, an organization she first got involved with during a break from radio to help vounteer in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Silas said she would not be opposed to a future return to sports talk.
She was disappointed that Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, did not live to see Barack Obama become the first black president of the United States.
In her book, which she continues to shop to publishers, Silas draws parallels to Robinson and herself, a woman who worked hard to become a known commodity in the male-dominated world of sports talk.
“I want to be alive when that first woman becomes the Howard Stern, Jim Rome on radio,” Silas said. “I don’t have to be that woman. Of course, I would love to be that woman who makes it and has my own network for 10 years and I pick my producers and I get to schedule everything and people really believe in what I do.”
A Syracuse communications graduate, Silas began her broadcasting career as a production assistant and field producer for ESPN and ESPN2 in the early 1990s. She moved on to various radio hosting and sideline reporting jobs in the late 1990s before landing her biggest break — a two-year stint as the co-host of Fox Sports Radio’s “Afternoon Drive” beginning in 2004.
While many women continue to rise to fame in sports media as sideline reporters and news readers, Silas joined a select group to have hosted their own national sports opinion show, a collection that also includes Nanci Donnellan, best known by her title of “The Fabulous Sports Babe.”
To a lot of people, women sports hosts “are a breath of fresh air,” said Mike Chellsen, the general manager and owner of ESPN 1280. “It also opens it up to more female listeners. A lot more women would listen to sports radio, not that they can’t with male hosts, but I think it opens up the door and tells them, ‘Hey, it’s all right.’
“Even before Suzy Kolber and Erin Andrews, C.J. was a real pioneer in that way.”
Prior to former KSBY sports broadcaster Dave Alles joining the “Sports Bite,” Silas co-hosted with former Cal Poly basketball player Mike Wozniak.
Silas severed with Fox in 2005, then was brought on by Chellsen to co-star on the “Sports Bite.” Life in San Luis Obispo also freed her up to host “A.M. Gameday” on ESPN Radio’s national slate, where she also did vacation fill-ins in a role that also ended in 2008.
She said Wozniak remains her favorite co-host in a group that includes such names as Chris Myers, Chris Rose, Bryan Cox and others. As Fox Sports Radio paired her with a revolving door of partners during her tenure, the show began to be known as “The Drive with C.J. Silas.”
“I just didn’t want to turn into a sidekick,” Silas said. “I don’t mind being the second in a co-host host role. It’s less work, you don’t have to worry about turning things on and off and producers screaming, but I didn’t want to turn into a sidekick because I’d worked so hard in my life to be a strong, knowledgeable, entertaining, confident, emotional, opinionated woman that made people feel and think.
“Because that’s always what I wanted to do.”