‘The grind is worth it’: Inside Jon Bloom’s rise to become voice of Phoenix Suns

Jon Bloom looks to bring a blend of professionalism and fandom to the airwaves as the new radio voice of the Phoenix Suns this upcoming NBA season. (Photo courtesy of Jon Bloom)

PHOENIX – At 11 years old, Jon Bloom knew he wanted to be a broadcaster. But the moment of realization came in defeat.

The Burlingame, California, native, was playing in the one meaningful championship game of his childhood in the American Youth Soccer Organization. Late in a tie game, the league’s best player on the opposing team surged toward Bloom, who was playing right fullback.

“I stood my ground and I took a shove on his way past me, and I fell and he fell over,” Bloom said. “And (the referee) blew the whistle and gave him the (penalty kick) and he won the game.”

At that moment, Bloom was already a realist long before his teenage years. He knew early on he wasn’t destined to be an athlete and decided to instead chase broadcasting, which would keep him close to the sports he loved.

The dream took on a new dimension when Bloom was 13 years old. As a California Golden Bears fan, he idolized point guard Kevin Johnson. When the Cal alumnus was traded as a rookie to the Phoenix Suns in 1988, Bloom became an instant Suns fan.

Now at 48, Bloom has combined his dream career with his fandom. The Suns announced Wednesday that Bloom was named the full-time radio voice of the Suns for the upcoming 2023-24 season, succeeding longtime broadcaster Al McCoy on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

“It goes back 35 years of fandom for this team and that’s what made this announcement and getting to this point, this opportunity, so special,” Bloom said.

Bloom was steadfast in being the voice of the Suns as an 18-year-old freshman at Syracuse University. Larry Gaydos, another Syracuse grad who has worked at KTAR News for the last 25 years in Phoenix, was a junior when he first encountered Bloom at the school’s student-run radio station, WAER. Bloom outlined his dream job to Gaydos in their first conversation, and they have been friends ever since.

“(Jon) knew exactly what he wanted as a teenager,” Gaydos said. “And now that he’s 48, he’s got it. It took a long time, but that’s how the business goes. And if you work hard enough, and you’re a bit patient, and you do everything that’s asked of you, hard work pays off. I think it’s an incredible story.”

While Bloom always had a clear vision of his destination job, the path to arrive there was bleak, quite literally from the long back-and-forth drives to Prescott Valley to call games for the Northern Arizona Suns – Phoenix’s former G League team – from 2016-19.

Those drives, sometimes dark with snowy conditions, made Bloom’s mind wander.

“I would question myself,” Bloom said. “Like, here I am, a father of two and I’m in my 40s and in some ways risking a lot here to go do a minor league game at this point in my career. Did I feel like that was something worth continuing doing?

“There were moments, but there was never any serious consideration of, ‘I’m tapping out of this. This isn’t worth it.’ Never, never did that cross my mind.”

Bloom had worked as the Suns’ pregame and postgame radio show host and backup play-by-play broadcaster since 2008. At certain points, he was simultaneously the Arizona Sports’ host for Arizona Cardinals games and a public address announcer for the Cardinals and Grand Canyon University.

“It’s perseverance, it’s having a dream and not letting it go, and it’s scratching and clawing,” Gaydos said. “He did a lot of other stuff before he finally got this job, but I don’t know if he really wanted to do any of that other stuff. I think he always wanted to obviously be the Suns’ voice, but he knew he had to wait until Al decided that he was done. And once he was done, that was the time for Jon to say, ‘Hey, listen, I’d like to do this.’”

Despite McCoy’s 51 years as the longest-tenured broadcaster in NBA history, Bloom’s patience was constant. As McCoy reached the end of his career, Bloom called the Suns’ road games with color commentator Tim Kempton, who will be entering his 22nd year in the role this upcoming season.

“To Jon’s patience, I’m sure at times it was trying, without a doubt, but he never never let that affect his call, affect his professionalism,” Kempton said.

Kempton added that Bloom “never tried to be Al McCoy. He was just always true to himself.”

Bloom’s character brings out a different vocabulary and energy that the 90-year-old McCoy didn’t have. A big music fan, he sometimes slips hip-hop lyrics into broadcasts while displaying his love for sneakers at games. Him and Kempton have talked about soccer and share stories about their respective children on-air.

While McCoy broadcasted in a straight line, Bloom zigs and zags, a change of pace that Kempton appreciates.

“Jon and I will bring other things into it,” Kempton said. “So there’s a little bit more freestyle, where Al and I were about the NBA, and the Phoenix Suns and what was going on that night.”

Bloom said he learned “professionalism mixed with humility” from McCoy. At the same time, he’s not shy to showcase his Suns fandom on the broadcasts. After 15 years of answering fans’ calls during the team’s good and bad moments, he says he is “one of them more than anything.”

“When I’m calling games, obviously I got to put the pro hat on, but once in a while the fan comes out and I think hopefully listeners can appreciate that,” Bloom said. “I know how difficult it is to follow in (McCoy’s) footsteps because I know how large they are and how indelible they are. So hopefully I continue to make that clear to those who feel the way I know they feel on ‘Planet Orange’ – as I like to refer to the Suns’ fan base – and we’re all on there together.”

Kempton, a former Suns forward during the 1992-93 season, also labels himself as a Suns fan and believes this to be a principle pillar of their pairing. He says that when some teams hire announcers without ties to the area, they usually aspire to move up to the national broadcast level.

But there is no other place that Kempton and Bloom would rather go – they’ve already reached their pinnacle destination.

“We want to be that person that brings the story to Phoenix Suns fans,” Kempton said. “We both live here, we have raised families here – we’re in on the Phoenix Suns.”

At the moment, Bloom still sees McCoy as the patriarch and himself as “the crazy uncle who comes for Thanksgiving,” but he hopes that will eventually change. After all, he’s earned the opportunity to sway Suns fans’ minds.

As Bloom looks back on his journey now, he still doesn’t let the soccer game and the ensuing penalty that changed his trajectory over 30 years earlier escape his brain.

Neither could the opposing coach, who constantly reminded Bloom that he tripped his player. Bloom defiantly held his ground and argued the contrary for the longest time.

But about five years ago, he was sent a video featuring his former soccer coach from his childhood playing days, Dr. George Wolff, who shared that the referee who made the call came to Wolff’s house that same night after the championship game in tears. He knew that he blew the call.

Bloom still wonders why it took so long for Wolff to reveal this part of the story. Nevertheless, just like his journey, he wouldn’t change how things ended up.

“I want to find out if Dr. Wolff intentionally kept that from me to motivate me all those years,” Bloom said. “Because it worked.”

Jonah Krell JOE-nuh krel (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jonah Krell expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Krell, who completed his bachelor’s in sports journalism in May 2023, has been a reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and play-by-play broadcaster for KASC Blaze Radio.