November 22, 2017

My experiences in sports media

I am a lifelong fan of sports business, media, and the games themselves. I find there is no greater reality television than live sports, particularly the NFL. I am also intrigued with sports, and the impact they have socially and culturally in all corners of the United States. I have now lived in different time zones, from cities with very different lifestyles, geography, and priorities on sports. I live my life with wide open eyes and ears. People in sports interest me, and I can get a small taste of what a person is all about just by talking to them about sports for five minutes.

Growing up in Lenexa, Kansas, I didn’t know I wanted to make a career out of examining sports until I was 19 years old attending Kansas State University. I grew up in a household where the sports media industry was a source of income, however, I didn’t really understand how the industry works, (I’m still learning) until having the opportunity to work part time for Tim Fitzgerald and the rest of the crew at GoPowercat.com and Powercat Illustrated. I remember reading the publication as a kid on my way to K-State football games, and it was pretty cool to see how it’s published from behind the scenes.

Growing up, besides golf, K-State sports were my passion. I would get very upset after losses from about age 12-17. It really didn’t bother me at first that peers at Olathe Northwest H.S. would define me in that way. They knew I was a radio guy’s son, and that he went to Kansas State, and that I liked the Wildcats as well. When I would talk about K-State, or sports in general, people would say stuff like “are you going to talk on the radio like your dad?” or  “you don’t know what you’re talking about, just like your dad.” That sort of stuff didn’t bother me, though. I have always been an opinionated, loud-mouth kind of person, and in school it definitely got me into some trouble.

I would be very critical of our high school teams in our school newspaper, and on our student television weekly broadcasts, which has a lot of alumni that work in the business now at very high levels, two of which I have the upmost respect for and will always be friends of mine. I caught a lot of flack for this because I would be critical of teams for not winning a lot of games. At first I didn’t care, I didn’t have aspirations for being the popular guy that everyone, and all the girls liked. I was just a skinny, zit-faced loud-mouth who played golf. I wasn’t that cool, I don’t think, even though a few of my best friends in life are from High School.

Things changed my senior year, I started thinking about my social life a little more, girls, and of course, looking ahead to college. I thought to myself “I don’t want people to hate me, I want to enjoy a social life and have fun.” So I started slacking off in a few areas of my life, as a lot of adults around me when I was 18 would agree. I didn’t practice golf as much as I should, I was more active on weekends with my peers, and maybe lost sight of the future for a few years like a lot of young people do.

I figured out what I wanted to do in college, and had a lot of great experiences in sports while doing so. I got to work for Fitz, do a student radio show, and work for the baseball team at K-State. I found that I made friends while getting to work in things I am passionate about, while in the previous few years I thought I had to conform, and hang out with certain people to be accepted. There’s no better way to do this then going to college, meeting new people, and realizing that a lot of those guys you thought you had to be friends with aren’t really that cool. It’s a total cliche.

I mean, I was never into all white air-max kicks, Hollister shirts, or diamond-stud earrings.

Until recently, I spent the last three and a half years of my life living in Louisville working for ESPN 680, and sister station 93.9 The Ville. The experiences this job offered me were nothing short of incredible. I’ve been a pretty fortunate person my whole life, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve gotten to see and do a lot more things in sports than 99% of 26 year olds all across the world. It was the best possible situation for me, to jump right into a top 50 market out of college. I definitely started on second base with sports radio.

I was doing every task a sports radio station has to offer. I was operating the sound board, producing, covering games, news conferences, setting up on-location broadcasts, sound editing, fill-in show hosting, I could go on.

Three years of that is the best experience you can get in the business. Our company is incredible, and for the most part, I felt welcome in a new city where I didn’t know a single person before. I remember when my dad told me in 2010 that the company had purchased a station in Louisville. My ignorant first thought was “Louisville, why?” I didn’t know much about it other than that it was a mid-sized city with a university that is an urban, commuter school. I obviously knew about the basketball history at U o fL, I wasn’t that stupid, but I had no idea how big the rivalry with Louisville and Kentucky is.

I knew they played each other, I guess I always just assumed Louisville athletics were sort of like Memphis, or Cincinnati in that they are the city schools in states where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio State are a bigger deal. That’s definitely the case with Memphis and Cincinnati, but not Louisville, and I had no idea. Where I came from, nobody watched Big East football, but knew of the conference because they have like 20 schools and they’re all in big cities, where basketball talent is prosperous.

Now, it’s obvious Kentucky is the bigger school, with more basketball tradition than any school on the planet, and has a bigger national following. I don’t think too many people argue that, but in Louisville, Cards and Cats fans were present, and I was blown away by the hate and passion of this rivalry. Most people would also agree that it brings unnecessary hate on individuals, and a lot of the times leads to bad things that sports and entertainment aren’t meant to cause, just like any other rivalry.

It was something that I never really got on board with.

I understand hating a certain team, but I would constantly run into people who completely defined themselves “Cards,” or “Cats.” I’ve always thought that if the first thing I think about a person is the team they are associated with, they care way too much. That could just be the media guy in me, and that I’m not so much a diehard fan of teams anymore. I’m more a fan of just the sport in general. I feel to really be invested in a college rivalry, you have to be associated with one of the teams. I was asked about 1,000 times by people which team I have become a fan of since I moved to Louisville. My response was almost always “The Bats.”

Sure, I’ll watch a Chiefs game in hope that my childhood team wins, but if they lose, I just don’t care as much as I used to. If there’s anything I do, I dissect it and figure out why Andy Reid threw a screen pass to a running back on 3rd and 16, and not dwell on a loss. I have too many good, and interesting things going on in my life to worry about a team losing a game.

The passion of sports fans in Louisville paid for my salary, and I can’t thank people there enough for helping us grow that station, it was a truly special transformation. When I started there in June 2013, we had 7 full-time on-air staff members, and two full-time salesmen in a small office where I sat in the middle of a conference room table with like four other people. The relief of our entire staff when we moved to our new studios was enormous.

I remember attending a meeting in August 2014 that my company was holding at the Marriott Louisville East, I was coming directly from the first round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. We found out that our company was going to be partnering with the University of Louisville soon, and that we would be adding another station.

Let’s be clear, in the grand scheme of things with the company, I was a minor role. Producers and equipment guys don’t determine the success of a radio station, they can only hurt it, which I definitely did a few times.

It was an adjustment at first adding a new station, and I was fortunate enough to be named producer of the John Ramsey Show (now Ramsey and Rutherford). I was very thrilled to get to work with a 30-year radio vet, and because Mike Rutherford was not signed on yet, I had an opportunity to sort of “co-host” the show from behind a sound board. It was great on-air experience.

I was also excited about the addition of Mike Rutherford because he created something from scratch that is the most visited Louisville website today. The popularity of CardChronicle in that city in unreal. I mean, people send Mike pictures of their kids wearing U of L gear to him to put on his website. While I think it’s very weird to send pictures of your kids to a complete stranger to put on the internet, no other website gets that attention. He’s also a cool guy, and brought a lot to our station.

Some of my not-so popular (with U of L) opinions started to surface when the basketball scandal was in full flight. It was a hard time for the fanbase, I fully understood that, especially knowing that Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio was breaking stories, and going on SportsCenter talking about it, really irritated people. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jones is in the heads of the fans, and athletic department. I remember there was a time where fans were more focused on who leaked Jones the story of the tournament ban, than their own problems with the athletic department and the scandalous activity of the coaches who work in it.

Some of the things I said about Pitino rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I just tell it how I see it, that’s the whole point of sports radio, say what’s really on your mind. But in all honesty, my thoughts on Rick Pitino are the same as everyone who isn’t a Louisville fan. The notion that “we don’t think Pitino knew about the 22 sex parties in the dorm because he says he didn’t know about it,” is an opinion that only Louisville fans have.

In this business, you realize that you have to move out to move up. I have bigger aspirations in the business than what I was doing. It was time for me to leave. I am currently not working in radio, I’m in the golf industry in Phoenix now. The golf industry is one that I have always had interests in, and Phoenix is a place I’ve always wanted to live. What’s not to like about golf and Arizona? I have a week day off and I’m sitting by the pool at my Scottsdale apartment on a 75 degree day in December listening to songs that nobody likes and writing a blog that nobody will read, pretty cool if you ask me.

I do plan to get back into radio, if the opportunity is presented. Delivering opinions on sports is about the only thing that I am good at, and I would love the chance to make someone’s drive home from work eventful some day. The most accomplished I’ve ever felt in life is when I know that because of my job, I affected someone’s day by providing entertainment. There is no greater feeling to me than having an affect on someone else.

I was a huge fan of season one of HBO’s The Newsroom which aired a few years back, and there was one line from Jeff Daniel’s character that stood out to me. “People don’t want to hear the news, they want to choose their news.” This can’t be more true with society these days. Even with sports, people want to choose what they hear. This goes back to my fandom take, where people care so much about their teams that, even presented with evidence or facts, they refuse to believe something bad about their team is true.

Radio talents need to always be open minded, and look at all sides of the stories to form an opinion. A lot of times I feel opinions are altered by outside parties, which to me is obvious and doesn’t make for compelling sports talk. This is not easy in local sports talk because you can’t always control the business side of it as on-air talent. Teams and Universities always have their hands in the cookie jar of local radio stations. It’s a hard line to draw, however, if you are good, and provide interesting conversation, you will succeed and benefit both parties. You have to understand that you aren’t always going to make everyone happy.

Sports radio, and the media industry is changing as we all know. Ways of getting information are always expanding and in different forms. Social media has single handedly built sports news and entertainment websites. Do you think Barstool Sports would be where it is now without Twitter, Facebook, and ESPECIALLY Instagram? No. I’m a huge fan of what those guys have created. They have fun doing what they do, don’t care what anyone thinks, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Not that they don’t take their job seriously, because they do, there’s a difference in those two things. I believe I am paraphrasing Dan LeBatard. I am very interested to see what Barstool is going to do with their two hour Sirius slot they have starting January 3.

Local radio is here to stay, especially now since there are more ways to listen to it than just on the radio. Online streaming has provided another stream of revenue for radio stations all across the country. Sports radio and it’s personalities have the potential to grow local businesses into businesses that become household names. One of the biggest selling points to me are live reads from talent. It’s a tactic as old as radio itself. The general public has an interest in what personalities are endorsing, and can be sold because they can deliver the message in ways most people can’t.

Local radio also talks about, you know… teams you care about. Not every market is the same. I live in Phoenix and while it’s a very large city, a lot of people aren’t from here. If you go to a Buffalo Wild Wings on a Sunday here, it looks like a Bob Ross painting with all the different colors you see people wearing. There is incredible sports radio talent here, and I’m tuned in every day. They do a great job and know there are transplants listening, who didn’t grow up watching Phoenix Suns Basketball.

What people say about the west coast and their interest in sports is cliche, but 100% true. In cities such as L.A., San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, the lifestyles are different and there’s just so much more to do. Sports isn’t always at the top of everyone’s list, especially if you aren’t winning. I went to Tempe to watch the Arizona State-Arizona football game in a bar a few weeks ago and Arizona hung 50 points on ASU and embarrassed them. Arizona was a TWO win team going into the game. I was amazed about how many people just didn’t care. I get it though. If you saw some of the sights on Mill St. that I did, and I think you know what I mean, you might care less as well.

The D-Backs finished below .500 this past season after paying Zack Greinke $200 million dollars, ASU finished 5-7, and the Cardinals, Suns, and Coyotes are all below .500. I can see locals losing interest.

Sports radio style and delivery is different in all parts of the country. Our larger cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, D.C., Dallas, Houston, ctc. tend to be more critical of teams, coaches, and players more than others. Those are cities where fans run coaches out of town, and sports radio is leading the charge.

In your middle of the road pro sports towns such as, let’s say Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and maybe to a lesser extent, Minneapolis, their pro sports teams are almost always the talk of the town. In these markets I feel you tend to have more former players hosting shows, with the local teams’ agenda in mind.

Then there’s the south, where Atlanta is your largest city spanning from Louisiana to North Carolina. These are your “raw-raw roll tide, roll” call-in radio shows, which have bred lots of successful personalities such as Paul Finebaum and Matt Jones.

With the growing online news presence, there aren’t nearly as many jobs in the media as there used to be. A lot of companies don’t have the payroll they used to. 30 years ago every mom and pop town in America had a newspaper, and every top 50 TV market in America had 20 people working on a nightly newscast. It’s not like that anymore, and jobs are hard to come by.

However with the online, “be the first one to publish” society we live in, there’s always opportunities to have your voice heard, and the opinions and stories in the world of sports are endless.

Spencer Kietzman
Spencer Kietzman 1 Article

Former Staff Writer

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