Leila Rahimi is now Dan Bernstein’s full-time co-host weekdays on The Score: ‘It’s a hard road for women in sports media in general and in radio even more so’

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Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune
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It wasn’t a well-kept secret — some of the WSCR-AM 670 station promos teasing a Monday announcement had included snippets of her voice. But now it’s official: Leila Rahimi is now Dan Bernstein’s full-time co-host weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Rahimi, cast off last summer by NBC Sports Chicago in a corporate cost-cutting purge, has been joining Bernstein since September once a week for what became known as “Leila Wednesdays.”

Their weekly pairing on The Score, combined with Rahimi’s guest spots on other programs, emboldened station management to bring her on Monday through Friday in a sports-talk format where women are all-too rare both on the air and behind the scenes.

“It’s a hard road for women in sports media in general and in radio even more so,” said Rahimi, whose first radio job at age 17 was a prelude to a career that to this point has focused on television. “You really have to be on your toes. Listeners a lot of times are waiting for you, hoping you’ll make mistakes.”

It surely helped that Rahimi had won over local fans since 2015 on NBC Sports Chicago in a variety of roles, most recently as host of “Baseball Night in Chicago” and the White Sox pregame and postgame shows.

Further evidence of Rahimi’s bona fides came when NBC recruited her to cover hockey in South Korea as part of the network’s 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics broadcast team.

Mitch Rosen, WSCR’s brand manager, said Rahimi “brings great Chicago sports knowledge” and cited “overwhelmingly positive” audience feedback” for her work with Bernstein the last few months.

“We are thrilled to be amplifying Leila’s role at The Score,” Rachel Williamson, WSCR parent Entercom Communications’ Chicago regional president and market manager, said in a statement. “She’s a seasoned professional. ... Adding her voice and perspective consistently creates a more dynamic midday lineup for Score listeners.”

The WSCR show has been rechristened “Bernstein and Rahimi.”

“Thanks to NBC Sports Chicago, I achieved some of the biggest professional goals I think someone can have in our business,” Rahimi said. “To host White Sox pre- and postgame, there wasn’t a woman in a larger market hosting a pre- or postgame show in baseball.

“I never thought I’d be in the position I was in to work in Chicago, to be the Bulls courtside reporter, or to do the Olympics. So I feel like I owe NBC Sports Chicago a thank you for putting me in a position to succeed as I did. … I’m still sad about what happened.”

What happened was Rahimi was dropped in NBCUniversal’s August budget reductions, like too many people in too many jobs in too many businesses.

Entercom Communications, the parent company of The Score, has been no exception.

WSCR last month waived producers Nick Shepkowski and Kevin Dziepak. Connor McKnight, who had been Bernstein’s co-host, and nighttime/weekend host Julie DiCaro were dropped in April, as were reporter David Schuster and producer Rick Camp, although Camp has returned on a part-time basis.

Another significant Score cut: Dan McNeil, who had been Danny Parkins’ weekday 2-6 p.m. co-host, essentially wrote his own pink slip with a sexist tweet about ESPN’s Maria Taylor in September. His role has yet to be replaced.

Rahimi has been one of the guest co-hosts to work with Parkins in the interim, and it’s widely anticipated Matt Spiegel eventually will end up in the slot.

Spiegel was Parkins’ co-host in early 2018, when Jimmy de Castro, then the senior vice president and market manager for Entercom’s Chicago radio stations, brought in McNeil to host with Parkins as part of a lineup makeover. Spiegel was given a “bullpen” role.

(De Castro retired from Entercom at the end of 2019.)

Immediately after Rahimi was let go by NBC Sports Chicago, Laurence Holmes, a WSCR host whose part-time job at NBCSCH also was eliminated, went on the radio with a full-throated endorsement.

“Any media organization that brings Leila Rahimi in is going to be better off for it because she’s that good,” Holmes told his audience, which included his WSCR bosses.

Social media, which can be one big troll convention, largely rallied behind her, too.

“I was not prepared for the response I got,” Rahimi said. “It was truly overwhelming and even now … I get goose bumps thinking about it.”

There are some hateful commenters out there, she acknowledged.

“I’m just good about deleting them very quickly on Instagram, not replying to them on Twitter or at least mocking them a little bit in jest on the text line,” Rahimi said. “That’s just a small sample size of what I get (and) whether they like it or not, they’re still listening. So, to me, they’re still a client, they’re still a customer.”

The radio job ensures Rahimi doesn’t have to leave Chicago, her ninth city. Her arrival here capped a brief, particularly tumultuous stretch, in which she bounced from her native Texas to San Diego, back to Texas, then Philadelphia and finally here.

She wouldn’t mind adding TV work to her new gig — “This isn’t me shutting any doors, it’s just me opening another one”— but she’s appreciative of the opportunity “in this climate” and the support she’s received from her friends-turned-coworkers at WSCR.

“I still get to talk about sports and we still get to enjoy ourselves,” Rahimi said. “That is not lost on me. I have a great deal of gratitude for that. … To me, it’s still very much a learning experience. It’s a career change in a way, to do this five days a week. I’m used to hosting TV shows, which is a different skill set in my mind.”

Bernstein, she said, has been “really collaborative … in helping me adjust. We’re both a bit nerdy so that helps too.”

Working alongside outspoken former White Sox infielder and manager Ozzie Guillen on Sox studio shows, however, presumably should have prepared her for anything.

“It’s funny,” Rahimi said. “Ozzie seems like this character who’s all over the place, but at the end of the day he’s still very much a teammate or shortstop, a guy who knows his game plan and that’s what made those shows so much fun. Ozzie knew exactly when to put his foot on the gas.

“But it definitely prepared me somewhat for this, that I do believe.”