Wit and Wisdom
Benicia Magazine’s editorial staff had the recent pleasure of interviewing Renel Brooks-Moon, the former radio celebrity and current public address announcer and Voice of the San Francisco Giants. Known simply as “Renel,” she has dominated the airwaves since 1986 when she joined KMEL’s The Morning Zoo. In 1997 she launched KMEL’s sister station 98.1 KISS FM as host of Renel in the Morning Show until 2017. When she transitioned to baseball it was a perfect segue for her, having grown up in a baseball loving family. A little known fact is that before working for the Giants, Renel worked for the Oakland A’s Television in the 1980s.
Renel’s success as an interviewer and commentator is in part due to the development and honing of her own style.
She recalled an interview with Mark McGwire in which he tried to shake her confidence prior to going on air: “Are you nervous?” he asked Renel as they sat together minutes before going live. “Oh, I’m ready,” she replied. Renel believes in deep research on anyone she interviews. She keeps up to the minute facts ready. These are the techniques she has developed for interviews: Do your research. Ask questions they don’t expect.
She co-writes and edits game day scripts for each Giants game. Her direct and unflappable demeanor, as well as her renowned sense of humor, has served her well in her 40-plus years in broadcasting.
Renel was recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame during the 2002 World Series when she became the first woman to public-address announce a Championship game in all of professional sports. She succeeded Sherry Davis, who was the announcer while the Giants played at Candlestick Park (1993-1999). Renel was honored to be selected as PA announcer in 2000 when the team moved to Pacific Bell Park, becoming the third female PA Announcer in major league history and the second African-American.
The following Question & Answer session took place recently in a Zoom meeting between Benicia Magazine’s editorial staff and Renel. The answers have been edited for length.
Q: You were in radio from 1985-2017 (106 KMEL 1985-1997, 98.1 KISS-FM 1997-2017). You were an on-air personality and celebrity, who could seemingly riff on absolutely any subject with great comedic timing. Do you ever miss the spontaneity of radio?
A: Renel admits that she sometimes misses those early freewheeling days of her career, but acknowledges that amusing opportunities still exist. A good example is when she is a guest on local sports shows, revisiting and analyzing local games and the latest news of Bay Area sports teams. Other gigs, such as hosting community events, galas, and Giants television, also offer opportunities for spontaneous merriment and astute observations.
Q: My morning was ruined if I missed “Celebrity Grapevine.” What was the inspiration behind that segment?
A: Celebrity Grapevine was Renel’s own take on what was happening in celebrity news. Renel was inspired by Entertainment Tonight, which had debuted earlier in the ‘80s. The general consensus was that she was hilarious as she lightly ridiculed celebrities, while always letting it be known which celebrity hottie she was admiring that day.
Q: Did you experience any challenges as an announcer/radio personality that were due to race or gender?
A: Renel explained that most of the power players and upper management in the broadcast world are white men. Within that group resides a great deal of power and privilege and the ever present “good old boys’ network.” Consequently, the voice of Black women in the business is rarely acknowledged. For Renel and most women of color, this is a fight to be recognized, a fight to be heard. The recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson were very triggering for Renel and other minority women professionals, because, once again, a highly qualified woman of color was grilled by a group of angry males hellbent on keeping her “in her place.”
Q: Who were some of your role models in the field of journalism?
A: “No female broadcasters influenced me as I was growing up, because there were none. There were no females of color on the radio or television covering news or sports in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My role models came once I got into the business. Belva Davis was the first Black woman reporter on the West Coast, and she opened the door for the rest of us. She has won eight Emmy Awards and was recognized by the Women in Radio and Television, and the National Association of Black Journalists.” Other influencers were Barbara Rodgers Channel 5, Carolyn Tyler Channel 7 — now San Francisco’s newest Film Commissioner — and the late Faith Fancher. Renel explained that this is why she mentors young women now, because of the dearth of mentors in the early days. Renel said that the main influencer in her life was her father. He was a trailblazer, he was the first Black high school principal in San Francisco in 1968 and was deeply involved in his community. He passed on his vast knowledge and love of music and sports, which led her to her career. Renel said, “My father was preparing me for my career from the beginning and I didn’t even know it; he was my hero.”
Q: There must have been incidents of great joy, pain, and hilarity during your lengthy broadcasting career. Can you tell us a story that conveys one of these moments?
A: While Renel was disc jockey at KMEL, she had the opportunity to attend a record release party for her idol, Luther Vandross. Renel stated, “I was the biggest geek! I told him I was his biggest fan. This led to on-air radio interviews, after concert interviews and attending a surprise birthday party for Luther. He even once sang my name at a concert.“ Other thrilling moments include covering the Grammys Red Carpet for CBS 5, and interviewing attendees like Queen Latifah and Usher. As far as Giants baseball is concerned, there are too many to mention, but winning the first of three World Series was exhilarating. Being a part of the 2010 championship parade and receiving a World Series Ring was an unexpected delight.
Another notable moment of joy was receiving an Emmy in 2019 as the host of the television series “Forever Giants.” Renel says she didn’t see that one coming!
Q: You have supported many charities and have been personally involved in community activism. You served on the board of the San Francisco Giants Community Fund, supported Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the Glide Foundation, and currently serve on the Advisory Board of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, to name a few. Are there other organizations that you are working with currently?
A: Renel says, “I am also on the Advisory Board of Real Options for City Kids (ROCK) in Visitacion Valley, providing critical services to at-risk youth.” Renel works with and is a mentor for Girl Scouts of Northern California. She is a Girl Scout Emeritus and recently received an award from the Girl Scouts. In lieu of making a speech, Renel was interviewed by two Girl Scouts, whom she has since “taken under her wing,” including them in the group of young women who she mentors on an on-going basis. The list of organizations Renel is involved with goes on, and she reports that it is some of the most rewarding work she does. Renel was led by the example of her father who was a trailblazer and community leader so many decades ago. Renel is a community activist because she is committed to using her voice for those who have no voice.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger, 16-year-old self?
A: Renel stated, “You have to be strong. You have quite a journey ahead of you that will be extremely challenging on so many levels. Stay strong.”
She might also have encouraged herself to ask her parents to transfer her from the high school she attended that was not in her neighborhood. Besides a 30 minute bus ride to and from Woodside High School, there was also the fact that rocks were thrown at the bus by white students opposed to integration. Yes, this was still happening in the early 1970s in the Bay Area. Being a teenager is hard enough without the daily struggle of being one of a small minority in an overwhelmingly white, middle class majority.
Renel was recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first female announcer of a championship game in any professional sport for her role in the 2002 World Series. 8 years later, the Giants won the World Series, when San Francisco defeated the Texas Rangers in 5 games. They won the World Series again in 2012 in a 4-game sweep over the Detroit Tigers, and won the 2014 World Series in 7 games over the Kansas City Royals.
In July 2018, Brooks-Moon served as the “Mistress of Ceremonies” at the inauguration of London Breed, the 45th Mayor of San Francisco. Renel received two honorary doctorate degrees, the first, Doctor of Arts and Letters from her alma mater, Mills College, and the second Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of San Francisco.
Renel closed the interview with a Shout Out to the fan base. They give so much love, support and appreciation; the fans ride hard for her. Although she receives a lot of love from the fans, she describes a lingering institutionalized lack of respect for Black women in her field.
The following are actual quotes from the interview that demonstrate the essence of Renel’s lengthy odyssey in broadcasting.
- “I don’t shy away from painful or difficult decisions and I speak up for what I know is right because I am my father’s daughter.”
- “I learned to help my community from my parents and, to this day, people share with me the impact that my parents had on their lives.”
- “I want my legacy to be that I helped bring about significant and lasting change at the Giants and in Major League Baseball.”
- “We, as women, have enough battles to fight. We must not fight each other. We should uplift and support each other.”
- “[I] Always have to prove myself, always have to prove that I know what I’m doing, still, after 30 years in broadcasting… I am grateful, but really tired of constantly having to prove myself.”
- “Everyone sees the glitz and glamor of what I do, but no one knows what I deal with. There is still racism both covert and overt in Major League Baseball.”