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Jeff Thurn is Growing With Sioux Falls

Tyler McComas

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One simple question is almost always guaranteed to be asked to anyone that walks into a radio station looking for a part-time job. “Do you have any experience?” Whether it’s in the sports radio field, or any other line of work, just about everyone reading this has been asked that at some point or another. Jeff Thurn was no different, as he walked across the street from a Nashville restaurant to WNSR, a local sports radio station in town.

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Curiosity had gotten the better of him, as he stared at the station from his seat inside the restaurant, wondering if this was a venture he would enjoy. Never afraid to talk to a stranger, Thurn walked across the street and inside the station to find any opening available. Shortly after arriving, he was asked the same entry-level question that can sometimes decide if a person is either hired or quickly shown the door.

“Oh yeah, tons!” That’s how Thurn answered when asked if he had any experience in radio. In reality, he had never walked into a studio, uttered a word on the air, or even touched any equipment that related to the job. Sure, he had a lot of experience in sports and knew what he was talking about, but he was starting from the bottom in terms of his knowledge of a functioning radio show. Regardless, WNSR needed a producer for their coverage of Tennessee Titans training camp and a face stood before them that was willing to be a part of it. It’s entirely possible the station could have believed Thurn’s claim to experience in the business, because a week later, he was offered the position. 

Thurn and his wife were looking to move out of Minnesota. She had aspirations of grad school and he had one year of undergrad remaining. What they were sure of, is that they wanted to be somewhere together that offered a warmer climate. Meeting each other a couple of years earlier at the University of Minnesota, they narrowed down their possible destinations to Orlando, Atlanta and Nashville. As fate would have it, their trip to tour Nashville as their next home came with a job offer for Thurn. 

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Shortly after, in late July 2009, Thurn was at WNSR working his first sports radio job. After receiving a one-hour tutorial on how to operate the equipment he had never laid his hands on, Thurn was thrust into the middle of all action at the Tennessee Titans training camp. Players he had watched on television were walking by and interacting with him, all because it was part of the job.

Who cares if the limited role only paid slightly above minimum wage? He was in heaven. This was the coolest thing Thurn had ever done. 

Some hosts have to wait years for their first big break to happen. For Thurn, it may have only taken two weeks. After one of the hosts of the training camp show fell ill, Thurn grabbed a headset and put himself on the show. Working with Bill King and Joe Biddle at the time, Thurn impressed enough for WNSR to approach him about doing a weekend show. He was offered the opportunity to sell his own advertising for the time slot and make himself profitable to the station. 

For the next year, Thurn did his weekend show and flashed potential as an on-air host. After building up a decent clientele, he was bringing in enough money to the station for them to give him a show on weeknights.  

Once again, fate was on the side of Thurn and his new show, as Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin resigned from his job and left for USC on the inaugural night of the show. The only evening sports radio show in Nashville, news cameras quickly swarmed to the studio to highlight what a couple of local hosts and callers were saying about the bombshell news. From there, the popularity of the show grew exponentially. People were now aware the show existed, just by the coverage they provided on one of the biggest Tennessee football stories in years. Sometimes, you catch a break. So far, Thurn had already caught a couple. 

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The night show continued to grow in popularity. So much, that it was voted the best sports radio show in Nashville against competitors in all other time slots. Truly, an impressive and rare feat for a show in the evening hours. Along with the show, Thurn’s popularity began to grow, as well. Bill King, a local radio icon in Nashville took note of this and offered Thurn a job as his producer from Sirius XM. The job offer was a no-brainer, as Thurn quickly accepted, but he also still wanted to do his evening show that had done so well in its time slot. The only issue, was that his show ended at 9:00 p.m. and was required to show up for King’s show at 4:00 a.m. Unless Thurn wanted to live like a zombie, he had to make a choice on which one to give up. 

Eventually, the opportunity to be with King and Sirius XM was too great to pass up. He resigned from his evening show at WNSR and pressed on as a full-time producer. During his two years with King, he discovered a love for college football that hasn’t went away since. Though the gig was fun and rewarding, Thurn couldn’t shake the feeling that he wanted to chase the dream of doing his own show again. He soon realized it was the next step he needed to take in his career. After reaching out to several contacts across the country, he was offered a job in Sioux Falls, SD at the ESPN affiliate in town. Oddly enough, that’s where Thurn grew up and went to high school. After going from Minneapolis to Nashville, he now had the opportunity to go back home. 

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It took a leap of faith to do it, but Thurn arrived at ESPN 99.1 in Sioux Falls in the year 2012, where he’s still at today. Since then, he’s never regretted the move for a second. Though a small market, he’s had the opportunity to cover events such as the Super Bowl, MLB All-Star Game and many other prime time events across the country. Thurn also has the ability to use his own original ideas on the show, a privilege some hosts would be jealous of. 

Thurn’s story is one that happiness in this business doesn’t have to come from just fame and a huge paycheck. Sure, we should all strive to be better and improve, but sometimes, the situation we’re in is one we take for granted. Jobs in bigger markets for less pay have often come available for Thurn, but he’s happy and his family his happy in a growing market. In his eyes, he’s totally content. 

Chasing after big aspirations isn’t a bad thing, but neither is choosing to be happy, either. 

You can hear Thurn every weekday on ESPN 99.1 from 3-6 CST. 

TM: Whether it’s a certain team or sport, is there one single topic that’s most relevant in Sioux Falls? 

JT: I would say that it’s two-fold. When it comes to college football, I would say Nebraska football leads the conversation. We’re actually the Huskers affiliate in the area. So, that’s a big one.

As far as the NFL is concerned, it’s the Vikings and Packers. We’re the Packer affiliate, but I’d probably say there’s more Vikings fans in the area. To have, what some people consider the greatest rivalry in the NFL, is great because you have a true split and get to hear from both sides. If the Vikings are terrible, you hear from more Packers fans and vice versa.

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At the end of the day, football drives the bus, I don’t care what part of the country you are. In the middle of the summer, we’re talking football, gearing up for the draft, we’re doing all those kinds of things. We do have a lot of Twins and Timberwolves fans, and we’ll go through those cycles, but football in this market, still drives the needle. 

TM: How critical is it to be involved in the community when doing radio in a market like Sioux Falls? 

JT: I think it’s huge, the thing about Sioux Falls, it’s crazy, because I grew up and went to high school here, but there was probably around 90,000 people. Now, in the metro area, there’s over 220,000 people. The two health entities, Sanford Health and Avera Health, are in an arms race to have the best sports performance things you can have.

There’s the Sanford Pentagon in town, which sits about 3,200 people. It’s housed college basketball games that have involved Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Colorado, this year it’s Oklahoma State and Nebraska that are playing here. It’s also held preseason games and Division 2 National Championships. At the event center, which seats 12,000 people and was built at the same time as the Pentagon, we’ve hosted Women’s Sweet 16, Regionals for college hockey, big time rodeos, the summer league tournament that draws the most women’s basketball fans for any weekend in the country and other great events. Growing up here, I would have never thought these things would exist around here like a G League team, which allows us to see a number of NBA guys come through here.

It’s crazy to see all the people that come through here, like Kirk Hinrich, Adam Thielen and Bob Knight, who have all recently been through. We’re involved in all of it, which makes it awesome. I host a lot of events for them. Sports Talk in Sioux Falls has really been taken up, not just because of us, but because of the growing community, because people have moved from all over.

Back in the day, you would have a sports talk host in town that would just report what’s going on locally. Now, people can actually voice their opinions about the NFL and everything else. Just in general, the media has grown, the sports community has grown and it’s so unique that we don’t have a team here. It’s totally different than a lot of other markets. 

TM: I think it’s awesome you get to travel to as much cool stuff as you do. But about that, where has your station benefitted from branching out from local stories, to sending you to cover the Super Bowl, MLB All-Star Game and other big events?

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JT: We still stay true to the local stuff, including a big emphasis on live broadcasts for teams in the area and the regional teams that people care about, the Huskers, Packers, Vikings and Twins. But I’ve noticed, for example, if we post an article on a regional story or national story that involves the NFL, our page clicks will be way more than if we post something on Augustana University, which is a D2 school. That’s just something we’ve noticed, over the years, in terms of interest on the digital side.

On the air, we still have the local coaches on the show every week, it just doesn’t bring up the same sort of conversations, because those schools aren’t Ohio State that have 100,000 people on Saturday that are showing up. Augustana may only have 3,000 people show up to their games, so if you think about that from the perspective of how many people are listening to your show, knowing you’re only getting a percentage of that number, versus all the people that are NFL and MLB fans, I just think for our market it makes more sense to go more towards what people really care about.

One response we get a lot from listeners is that they’re really impressed with the guests we get on our show. They tune in because we hone in questions to national guests that are centered on the regional teams in the area. They get to hear the voices and faces they see on national television talk about their favorite teams. I just think we have a really good mix of national and local content. 

TM: What makes your market so unique and special? 

JT: First off, I think it’s the melting pot aspect, where we don’t have strong ties to a local team, so, as a radio host, you don’t have to be super biased to the team, because the team might get mad at something you say. In five years, I’ve talked bad about the Packers and Vikings when they’re playing bad and never had anyone call up to say I can’t do the coaches show that week because I said something bad.

I think that happens in a lot of places. You got to be choosy with your words. In general, I think Sioux Falls really is encouraged about its growth. People are all-in with continuing that and it’s just a wonderful community. There’s not that much crime, people love living here, so you’re getting people from all over. People just love to come here and we’re really getting a ton of sports fans from all over. It’s awesome. 

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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