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Listeners Love Larry Krueger, But They Don’t Need Him

“I think this is actually one of the positive attributes of being here is that people have sports in the proper perspective. They don’t need a tragedy or a pandemic or death in the family to remind them of that.”

Brian Noe

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Originally from San Francisco, Larry Krueger does afternoon drive in the town he grew up in. His grandfather was a cable car conductor way back after World War I. His dad worked for the city attorney’s office for 40 years. Larry’s Bay Area roots — and his love for the Giants, Niners, and Warriors — run deep. He also considers his familiarity with the area to be his home court advantage. Larry has always understood what the audience wants because it’s the place he’s always called home.

Krueger To Stay By The Bay - Radio Ink
Courtesy: KNBR.com

Larry stars alongside Tom Tolbert and Rod Brooks on the legendary radio station KNBR. We cover a lot of ground in this interview including the sensitivity level of certain local teams and how Bay Area fans have been mislabeled. One of Larry’s most interesting views is why the local audience wants sports radio but doesn’t need it. Larry also talks about his identity crisis, why it’s best to not talk to a friend often, and how family and football might factor into his future plans. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What did you learn from your time working with Gary Radnich?

Larry Krueger: He treated people so well when we’d be out in public. I just learned to treat everybody great. Sports talk radio is the toy department of life so nobody wants somebody who’s dour, and down, and bummed, and bitter when they meet them publicly. They want somebody who’s up, and fun, and enthusiastic. He treated people so well. He was on TV and radio so he was recognized all the time everywhere we went. People would want five minutes of his time. He was just so generous with his time because I think he felt like his popularity was tied a lot to the public, so he treated them well. I always kind of knew that was the case, treat people well, but to see it carried out I think really hit home.

BN: What’s the biggest difference between working with Tom Tolbert and when you worked with Gary?

LK: They’re similar in that I don’t know which direction they’re going to go. They’re not formulaic guys. They’re independent thinkers. They’re different in just their mindsets. Tom played the game at a professional level. Gary played it at a collegiate level. I think there are some lessons to be learned when you play professionally that you don’t get if you don’t.

They’re very similar in a lot of ways, but Tom is much more micro and Gary was much more macro. Tom will go deeper into some of the actual nuts and bolts of strategy in the different sports. He likes to kind of break down things where Gary didn’t really like to break things down. He would push back with humor often. [Laughs] He didn’t want to break it down. He wanted to laugh and just joke and have a good time. They both want to have a good time, but I think Tommy is a little bit more into the strategy and the game within the game. Gary likes people and the impact of everything on people. He’s looking at it more from the fan’s perspective I think.

BN: What is the key ingredient that makes your show with Tom and Rod a success?

LK: I would just say that we don’t have a meeting before the show. We don’t leave the show in the pre-show meeting because there is no pre-show meeting. I think that’s a huge key. I know there are a lot of program directors that are like, ‘Get in here two hours ahead of time and you guys hammer it out. He’s going this way, and you’re going that way, and then he’ll counter with this.’ No. Jeremiah Crowe doesn’t believe in that. The program directors prior to that didn’t believe in that. This is big market radio. They point you to the studio and they hold you accountable for the ratings. You’ve got to figure it out from there. I think that’s good because it’s organic. We don’t know if we’re going to talk about funny stuff in the first segment, or a death, or something incredibly sensitive. Especially in the last year, it’s been a very trying year, and despite the fact that a lot of people want to be very planned out with their commentary, we don’t leave it in the pre-show because we don’t have that whole let’s do the show before the show.

BN: What are the differences between Jeremiah and previous programmers Bob Agnew and Lee Hammer?

LK: Every programmer I’ve had here has given us total autonomy to do the show how we see fit. I think Jeremiah let’s the shows breathe a little bit more. He’s not giving us daily feedback or segment-by-segment feedback. I think some of the guys before would try to give you daily feedback or some kind of weekly feedback. His feedback is more like hey I’ve been listening for the last four or five weeks, this is what I hear. I kind of like that because it takes the importance out of each show. Anything can be said once but this is what I’m hearing consistently. I think what you hear consistently is a better way to evaluate. I like the way he does that. He doesn’t micromanage at all.

BN: KNBR has been labeled as being overly positive toward Bay Area teams. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

LK: That’s a great question. I think that is a fair assessment to be honest. I worked with Russo at Mad Dog Radio. I used to be an affiliate relations person for a network so I’ve listened to a lot of sports radio in other markets. I think there’s more of an antagonistic relationship in a lot of these markets. One time I commented to a guy who was doing sports updates for me on Mad Dog, I’m like dude, every score you just gave, the team lost to the other team. Nobody beat anybody. Everybody lost. The Celtics lost of the Nets tonight. The Knicks lost. I said just think about that for a second. Everybody lost. I think the atmosphere is hyper-negative in this industry coast to coast so I prefer a little bit more positivity.

I also think it’s tied to the business relationships. When you’re the flagship station — we had a competitor this year who after a 49er game just filmed himself saying, ‘I hate Nick Mullens,’ at the top of his lungs. That kind of I’m the voice of the fan, people here are a little bit more sophisticated. I don’t think that jives that well to be totally honest.

You also have to remember the Giants own a part of the station. Being the flagship station is a different deal than just being a station in the market. I think that’s the balance. When you’re a 50,000-watt station and you were the only show in town for a long time, you have to be entertaining, you have to get the fans going, but you also have to maintain relationships with your partners or you’re not going to be in it for the long haul. I do think we’re a little bit more favorable across the board toward the home teams here than what I’ve heard around the country. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but I definitely think it’s the case.

BN: Sometimes teams are very sensitive about what the flagship station is saying about them. How would you rate the sensitivity level of the teams in the market?

LK: I do the 49er pre and postgame show with Dennis Brown and John Lund in addition to doing my Monday through Friday show. The 49ers are so big time it’s unbelievable. I’ve talked to the head of broadcast over there, the owner, general manager, head coach, I’ve talked to every major executive, I’ve never once had anybody even suggested to me, hey your tone, or your this or that. I’m known as somebody who gets it right as far as facts; I spend a lot of time to try to get it right. Part of that could be it. But also they’re just big time. It’s like New York or LA, they don’t have rabbit ears. It’s amazing.

KNBR's Larry Krueger: You can go home again
Courtesy: Ben Fong-Torres

I’d rank them number one. Then I would rank the Giants and the Warriors number two. Easily the most sensitive franchises have been the Raiders and the A’s. If you said something about the Raiders, you just wouldn’t get a Raider. That would be it. You had to decide what you wanted to do. Do you want players on your show or do you want to have freedom to say what you want to say?

I would say the 49ers are number one. You can absolutely say — they don’t want you to go crazy — but as long as you’re somewhat fair and somewhat on topic, there’s total latitude to say pretty much what you want, when you want. I like that. As somebody who does a postgame show, you know the way the NFL is, the NFL is passionate and every game means everything, and we’re taking phone calls. I’ve lived through the Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula eras. There were times I had to say this is just not going to work anymore. I’ve been incredibly critical of the teams at times, and the 49ers I would say are the best I’ve ever been around as far as that. They just will not try to in any way impact what you’re going to say.

BN: How about the way fans have been labeled in that area as being passive or less caring; do you think that’s accurate at all?

LK: No, I don’t. People here have incredible passion for their teams. It’s just this is California. We’re not locked in our house and there are a lot of great things to do in California. The weather is fantastic. The ocean is there and the mountains are there. There’s skiing and surfing and you can do them in the same weekend. It’s practically all year long. The people here, they love sports radio but they don’t need it. They need in other parts of the country. Need it. Here they like it, they want it, they prefer it, but they don’t need it. So you better be good.

I think this is actually one of the positive attributes of being here is that people have sports in the proper perspective. They don’t need a tragedy or a pandemic or death in the family to remind them of that. The Warriors could have an NBA championship parade and there could be people literally calling up going why are there so many people gathering? That wouldn’t happen in other towns. Here there are people that are so in to what they’re in to, that they’re disengaged on that level. In other words you’re never going to get them, really. But I think that’s healthy because that’s society. Sports is an aspect of our society. It’s not society. I think the perspective that people have here is healthy to be honest. I really do.

BN: When you’re competing for ratings against Damon Bruce, has that had any impact on your friendship?

LK: He just called me the other day. He was my producer in 1995 when I worked for Ron Barr’s Sports Byline USA. We’ve been friends ever since. We don’t talk as much as we used to. [Laughs] I’ll say that. We’ve only talked like once or twice in the last year even though we’re still friends and we’re still represented by the same agent and we have a lot of history. I have nothing but good things to say about him as a person and I’m sure he’s got nothing but good things to say about me as a person. But he’s competitive and I’m competitive. I’m the kind of person that would say I kicked your butt more than you’ve kicked my butt, so it’s best just not to talk.

BN: Since 2011, you’ve had another station to compete against in The Game. How has it impacted your approach to the job with a rival station in the market?

LK: I think competition makes people better. I’m a believer in America. I’m a believer in capitalism and competition. Jim Harbaugh used to say iron sharpens iron. I just think competition makes us all better. I love that they’re there. It keeps everybody on their toes.

To be totally honest it’s probably the reason I got back on the air in 2011 because suddenly there was competition. There are two shows in town. Before that it was like, do you want me on your team or not? Then after that point it was like, do you want me on your team, or do you want me against you? [Laughs] I think competition is always a good thing. I think it makes everybody better. I think it’s been a real positive. It gives people more choices and it makes us be on top of our game. You don’t have the announcer that’s going on and on and on about the eleventh rated topic that he himself is super passionate about, but the audience couldn’t give a crap about. That doesn’t happen anymore because there’s somebody down the dial who’s probably playing the hits. So play the hits.

BN: What was it like for you during that time [between ’05 & ‘11] not being on the air in the Bay Area?

LK: It was like an identity crisis to be totally honest. It was like, was I a sports talk host who just wasn’t working, or was I doing what I was doing and not putting everything into it? It was a constant thing. I did really well away from radio. I made really good money but it also felt more like work.

To me it all comes down to how you feel on a Friday and a Sunday. When I’m doing sports radio, Sunday comes up and I don’t care. It’s like any other day of the week. Why? Because I love what I do. I don’t really care if tomorrow is Monday morning and I have a whole other workweek. I don’t look at it as work. When I didn’t do sports radio and I did other things for money, I cherished Friday afternoon. The weekends went by too fast and the weekdays went by too slow.

BN: What were you doing outside of sports radio?

LK: I did sales. I sold siding, like fiber cement siding that you put on buildings. It was great. I sold millions of dollars of that stuff but it just wasn’t — [Laughs]. The other thing I learned, anybody who does this for a living could do well at sales. It’s all about talking and holding the audience.

BN: Having previously worked for Mad Dog and ESPN Radio, what would you say are the biggest pros and cons of doing a national show?

LK: Well the pros are definitely that you have a greater variety of topics. And I love talking to people. There’s great passion around the country. There’s very little passion in this part of the country for college football, and yet there’s great passion around the country for college football. I like the national platform from that perspective; you have people that are super passionate all around the country. I think it’s really interesting when you start taking calls and you go to the different regions of the country, the different accents, their perspectives. It’s really refreshing.

As far as the constraints, I felt like you have to go with the NFL or NBA story. Baseball nationally doesn’t go. Baseball locally, if you’re in New York on the FAN, talk Yankees all day. But you get on Mad Dog Radio and you start talking tons of baseball, it’s like ugh, when are you going to talk basketball or the NFL? On the national platforms I think they’re too reliant on the NFL. NFL stories that aren’t even stories can get pushed for days sometimes with no legitimacy just because it’s the NFL and people want to go with the biggest national story. That’s the downside I think is that it’s a little bit overdone as far as the NFL and NBA breakdown. I’ll hear NBA breakdowns throughout August. It’s like bro, I don’t want to talk any more NBA. Let’s put it away.

BN: Looking to the future, are there any goals on your list that you’d like to accomplish?

LK: One of the things that we haven’t talked about at all is that I went to Sac State, and out of college I got a job scouting in the Canadian Football League with the Sacramento Gold Miners. I left the Gold Miners and went to the Arizona Cardinals and was doing personnel for them until I kind of decided that one of my real goals in life was to have kids and have a family. I’m one of four kids. I just saw football personnel evaluation as not conducive to building a family. That’s truly what I’m best at. At some point I feel like I’ve got two kids in college right now, I’ve got a couple more to go, but someday, somehow, someway I’m going to get back into football player personnel because that’s what I’m good at.

BN: Do you think that focusing on your family or other non-sports things makes you more interesting as a sports host?

LK: Absolutely. You can’t relate to somebody if you don’t have a mortgage, if you don’t have a kid, if you don’t have a wife, if you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend, whatever it is. You have to have life experiences. One of my favorite guys to listen to, he’s one of my good friends, is Jody Mac. He’s an older guy but he’s got life experiences and you can hear it. He brings it to the air. I love that. That’s what I love about Dog too. He’s got passion but he’s also has lived. That’s what I love about Radnich. He always used to have a saying; I’ve lived a little.

With plenty of emotion, Gary Radnich says goodbye after 24 years at KNBR
Courtesy: KNBR

The one thing I learned from being involved in scouting in my 20s, and all the other scouts were in their 60s for the most part, is that old people know a lot and young people know very little. We should shut up and listen more to older people. I don’t know why we don’t honor older people in our society the way other societies do. That’s a bigger question probably for another time, but I just think older people have knowledge, and they have perspective, and they have wisdom, and we don’t take the time to listen enough.

What we’re doing is about relatability. The best hosts are the ones who relate. How do you relate if you haven’t lived? How do you relate if you have nothing to compare it to? Maybe you had a bankruptcy or had a foreclosure or had a divorce or have been fired. I think that’s why you see guys last a long time in this business because if you can maintain your passion and your desire to be a voracious reader and digest all the day-to-day minutia, well then you will have it all because you also have the perspective of having lived.

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