Behind The Scenes

ESPN Radio’s John Kincade on bouts with cancer, path into sportscasting

ESPN Radio’s John Kincade, host of “The JK Show,” in his Atlanta-area home studio.
(Photo courtesy John Kincade)

When John Kincade flips on his microphones weekdays to talk sports on local Atlanta radio and Sundays for his national show on ESPN Radio, he’s convinced that he’s got the best job in the world.

But the former Philadelphia business consultant might never have pursued his passion to become a sports talk radio host were it not for two bouts with cancer.

In 1995, Kincade was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. Shortly after enduring treatments to put the lymphoma in check, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Kincade’s successful battles against both illnesses helped put his life into perspective and fueled a midlife career change. The Temple graduate has been an Atlanta sports talk show host since 2000. Sundays on ESPN Radio (7-10 a.m. ET), he broadcasts The JK Show out of his home studio in the Atlanta area, which he’s done since 2006.

In addition, Kincade works to support V Foundation efforts to fight cancer.

“I’m 13 years clean, a lucky 13,” Kincade said regarding the remission period from his last bout with cancer. “I didn’t know I’d see today. I didn’t know I’d see my own show on ESPN, have a wife, be a dad. They seemed like pipe dreams in my darkest hours.”

As Jimmy V Week (Nov. 27-Dec. 4) unfolds across all ESPN platforms, Front Row asked Kincade to share his unique perspectives.

As a two-time cancer survivor, what does Jimmy V Week mean to you?
It’s all about Jim’s message: ‘Don’t ever give up.’ It’s a message of hope. . . If you don’t have the right game plan, you’re not going to succeed. Do all the things you’re told to do. Stay positive.

When I look back at it, I had at one point a 40 percent of seeing Christmas. Thankfully, I had one doc say to me, ‘Were you in top 40 percent of your college graduating class? Were you in the top 40 percent of income for guys in your age bracket? Then why would you not think you would be in the top 40 percent here?’

We need supportive organizations like the V Foundation. They bolster you up in days when you feel like curling up in a ball. The second time I was diagnosed, I felt like my life was pretty much over. But something in me helped me, and thankfully I got a lot of support and that bolstered me.

Did you ever meet Jim Valvano?
I did not, so I’m honored that I’ve gotten to know his brothers [V Foundation board member Nick Valvano and longtime ESPN Radio weekend host Bob Valvano], to work with Bobby V. Getting to know Bobby, I know where Jim came from. There’s something so familiar about him to me. I grew up in Philly in a strong, vibrant Italian-American community. When I see the brothers interact, it’s familiar to me. It reminds me of my extended family. Honestly, I think the Valvano name and Valvano passion is part of what makes the V Foundation great. It’s relatable.

Explain how battling cancer helped lead you, in an indirect way, to a career in Atlanta sports radio and eventually a national show at ESPN.
I was in the business world. I had done sports radio on the side, as a hobby. Saturdays and Sundays I was a part-time talk radio host, burning the candle at both ends. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. . . I would go to business meetings, meet somebody, an executive, a consulting firm or somebody and they’d ask, ‘Are you the John Kincade that I hear on the radio on the weekend? Why do you do this for a living?’ I would hear that from people, but I always was intoxicated by the money I was making and thought that sportscasting was my hobby.

[Battling] cancer gave me the ability to say nothing was going to stand in my way if I was going to handle something. There’s not going to be any challenge I couldn’t take on.

I told my mom, ‘If I survive this [second bout with cancer], I’m going to quit and pursue my passion.’ I was saying this, but I was thinking in my head, ‘I’m probably not going to live that long.’ But as I got stronger, I had to go do it. I had to follow through. The Friday before Memorial Day in 1999, I literally woke up in the morning and gave my old job two months’ notice. . . I lost 80 percent of my guaranteed money and took a $36,000 a year radio job [in local Atlanta radio].

What’s Atlanta like this week with Georgia playing in the SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome against Alabama?
It’s frantic. There are two sets of [Georgia football] fans down here: absolute zealots with the blinders on who believe that they’re winning the game, and the other ones who are too scared to believe. I’m preaching the message: Enjoy this week. They don’t come along that often. Don’t worry about whether the national analysts are giving you respect. Enjoy. Sports is not supposed to be a negative energy in your life. It’s supposed to be positive and fun.

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