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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. 

Sioux Falls, SD

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

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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