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A chat with Fred Kirsch: The man behind the in-house content of the Patriots

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A conversation with the man whose job is to bring you closer to the Patriots.

Following the end of the Patriots’ 1994 season — a Wild Card-round loss in Cleveland to the Bill Belichick-led Browns — team Vice President Jonathan Kraft picked up the phone.

His call was to the editor of New England Sport — Journal of the Sports Museum of New England, a quarterly publication covering sports at every level in the region. In the preceding months the editor of the magazine had sent Kraft a letter detailing an idea he had for the creation of in-house Patriots content. The editor’s name was Fred Kirsch.

These days he’s known for his role as the ringleader on PFW In Progress — the live radio program and podcast of the Patriots’ official in-house newspaper: Patriots Football Weekly. The newspaper was the reason for Jonathan Kraft’s phone call in January of 1995.

“He called me up after the 1994 season and said he was in,” Kirsch said over the phone last week. His distinctive voice, more tenor than baritone, carried with it that mild, familiar New England accent he’s been putting to use for years on It was a busy Friday morning in the middle of what is a busy time of year for a Publisher & Vice President of Content at Kraft Sports Productions — his official title these days — yet there wasn’t a single trace of haste or bother as he spoke.

“I was brought on that January. The first issue came out — well, here it is on my wall — April 3rd, 1995.”

Fred Kirsch has overseen Patriots Football Weekly through twenty-two full NFL seasons, three head coaches, eight Super Bowl appearances, and five championships, with a smattering of off-field scandal sprinkled throughout. While there certainly has never been a shortage of content, arguably the biggest factor in PFW’s success has been the latitude given to Kirsch and his staff by the organization — which is not something every NFL team is completely comfortable with.

Tune in to an episode of PFW in Progress and you’ll quickly learn that criticism of Patriots players and team personnel isn’t something limited to just traditional credentialed media — and it’s also not something they artificially manufacture. It’s this dynamic blend of unparalleled access and objective reporting and analysis that Kirsch says was his visionfrom the beginning — one that he and the Krafts shared.

“It was predetermined. The Krafts knew that if you wanted to print a paper or make a website — something that was also getting started around that time — and if you wanted to talk football, then you have to call it like you see it, or else fans will know. It will just be fluff.”

“Winning helps.” Kirsch acknowledged when asked about the ease of maintaining that level of impartiality when covering a perennial powerhouse. “If we were the Cleveland Browns and we had to write about them for twenty-three years, that would be pretty rough. The fact that (the Patriots) have won so much over the years, it sure as hell helps, that’s for sure.”

“There have been a couple down years though.” Kirsch added, “My first year here the team went 6-10. They went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season. When Pete Carroll left, I believe they went 8-8, and things were heading in the wrong direction. So it’s not like it’s a Super Bowl year every year.”

You could practically see his smirk through the phone.

In July of 1997, Kirsch and his team started posting nightly videos to the team’s website in a series they called Patriots Cyber Sideline. According to Kirsch, it was the first “made for the internet” nightly video show, regardless of genre. In 1999 they entered the internet radio medium with a show called Patriots Cafe, which featured lunch time interviews of players in the team cafeteria at old Foxborough Stadium.

Today the show has evolved into a four-man broadcast with Kirsch as the lead host flanked by PFW staffers Paul Perillo, Andy Hart, and Erik Scalavino. The program’s tag line?

“Online and Out of Bounds”.

From truck driving North Carolinians and Californian actors, to Floridian millionaires and Alaskan Coast Guardsman, their audience spans every corner of the country and well beyond. The show fields weekly calls and emails from dedicated Aussies, Brazilians, Irishmen, Koreans, Swedes, and dozens of other fans from various international locales. Wherever there are Patriots fans, PFW’s wide reach has been there to quench their football thirst.

If the program’s listeners tune in for the Patriots content, they stay for the personalities.

The typical episode will start with Fred's rundown of the day's news. At some point in the first two or three minutes the show becomes derailed by a random semantic dispute — usually over Seinfeld-ian topics such as the specific titles given to the area's numerous fruit-flavored frozen dessert products, or the most descriptive shade of whatever color Erik's sweater happens to be that day. At this point, Kirsch either attempts to wrestle the show back on course by throwing it to the callers and e-mailers, or he simply gives in and joins the jovial exchange.

The cast’s authenticity and familiarity allows the audience to connect with the show. It feels almost as if the program is one large, long-running inside joke — you either get it or you don't — but the more you listen, the more you start to understand, and the further you are drawn into the community they have created.

For all of the antics and its eclectic group of characters (cast and caller), traditional sports journalism remains at the show's core — something Kirsch says will always be there.

"I feel there will always be a need new for hard news." Kirsch says — a statement that would certainly generate a chuckle from Andy Hart if uttered during the show, thwarting any hopes of keeping that episode on track.

“Real journalism — reporting the facts, developing sources and having those sources vetted — that’s where it is. That’s where there is a trust built. People know that what they are reading is true. There will always be a need for that.”

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @BPhillips_SB