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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.