One of the most interesting aspects of sports is that no two paths are the exact same. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic is a former No. 3 overall pick from Slovenia. Boston Celtics stud Jayson Tatum is also a No. 3 overall pick, but he was born in St. Louis and went to Duke. Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (No. 30 pick) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (No. 35 pick) are both late-round picks that have made multiple All-Star appearances. However, Draymond has only played for the Warriors while Butler is on his fourth NBA team.
Athletes might have similar experiences along the way, but their journeys often differ. The same is true in sports radio. There are many different roads that zigzag all over the place. Ron “The Show” Hughley definitely has a unique story; he got his start in sports radio at the age of 30 and in six years he ascended to radio market number six, his current home, Houston, Texas. Everyone who has that career path please raise your hand. Okay, you can put your hand down now, Ron.
The Show currently hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610 in the same city Butler was born. One of his former program directors says Ron has a screw loose in a good way. The Show’s background and perspectives are different than the bulk of sports radio personalities. We had a very open conversation about the state of the sports talk industry and what Ron wants to see change. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?
Ron Hughley: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. Born and raised there. That’s where I started my career as well. I grew up a fan of all those teams. Still a big, big Kansas Jayhawk fan. You know I’m feeling really good after the national championship. That’s me. A guy who very much loves where he’s from, just like many Kansas Citians.
BN: How do you think it would play in Houston if you were still a die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fan?
RH: Well hell, Brian, they think I am still. [Laughs] No matter what I say, ‘Go back to Kansas City. You just talk about the Chiefs.’ People here still believe no matter what I say, ‘Just go back to Kansas City. You love the Chiefs. You love Patrick Mahomes.’ I will tell them I’m not a Chiefs fan. I’m happy for my friends and family who are still die-hard when they won the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t the same way for me like in 1995 when I was hanging on trying to believe that Steve Bono could lead the Chiefs to a championship. Or in ’97, that Elvis Grbac could lead them to a championship. I just didn’t have that same feeling. But I’m happy for my family and friends. These people here in Houston, it doesn’t matter. ‘He’s from Kansas City. He’s a Chiefs fan. He has to be.’
BN: What would you say is unique about your radio path?
RH: Started at 30. I did some small stuff at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) in Murfreesboro. I mean small. I’ve always been into sports. I didn’t even know sports radio was a thing until I was in college. I never listened to sports radio in Kansas City growing up. I knew [Jason] Whitlock was a writer. I didn’t even know he hosted at 610 [SportsRadio] where I got my start. I was 30 years old and I remember my first son was like five, six months and I was getting up to go to church on a Sunday morning. I was like, man, I’ve got to do something. I had worked for 10 years at that time with at-risk youth. That was kind of a passion. I had worked with the YMCA all the way in high school and college and then I worked at a children’s mental hospital. When I moved back to Kansas City I started listening and Nick Wright was on. That was the big thing I was listening to. I was 30 and I was like I need to give this a shot, man. My situation with my wife allowed me to take a chance. I remember being at church. I shot Carrington Harrison — me and him have a mutual friend — I just shot him a Facebook message at 9:30 in the morning. He responded immediately and said he would meet with me and give me some advice. He told me to just have a demo of some sort. I called a buddy of mine who was a music producer and he helped me out doing some production for me. We did like one 30-minute podcast. I put it on Twitter the next day. Carrington then hit me up like five hours later and was like ‘hey, do you want to come in and see how I do a show?’ I’m like ‘sure.’ I came in the very next day and he introduced me to John Hanson who I forever give my career to. It’s a shame that he’s not working in the industry right now. He is one of the best minds out there. He was the perfect person for me to run into. I don’t think there was another program director sitting in that seat that would have got me. I met with him for like 20 minutes. He was like you’d have to start at the bottom if you started here. You’d have to be a board-op. I’m like, cool. He was like you have a demo or anything? I’m like yeah, I do a podcast. I did one episode the night before. He had me email it to him. I left. I went on with Carrington and Ben Heisler and continued to have them put the show together. About 30 minutes later he came in and he was like ‘you’re sure you’ve never done radio before? This is one of the best demos I’ve ever gotten in 20 years.’ From that point he still didn’t bring me in. He made me do another one and come back the next week. We went over it. Then people just started flying off. One of his board-ops quit that very week so then he found space to hire me. I just kind of moved up from that point on.
BN: There’s been a lot of talent in KC. What’s something important that you picked up along the way from your time there?
RH: A lot, man. Danny [Parkins] is one of the best to sit and watch do it. I will never forget, one of the big things from Danny was you’ve got to win the big day. Every day you’ve got to put together solid shows, but if there’s a big day where the Chiefs are drafting Tyreek Hill and the city’s going nuts, how do you win that day? Opening week, how do you win that? Or some breaking news hits, Alex Smith gets traded and now we know they’re going to go with Patrick Mahomes. How do you win the big day? Because the winning of the big day brings people to say okay, that’s where I need to be everyday. Also John Hanson saying different is good. Keep being you. He would tell me all the time you’ve got a screw loose in your head and it’s a good thing. I think just a difference in how I approach things. I wasn’t classically-trained so I never tried to do that. My perspective as a black man in this industry is kind of different anyway. I would bring in a lot of church elements on the show. Those were two big things that I picked up from guys there in Kansas City.
BN: How did you transition from KC to Houston?
RH: I got fired in Kansas City. It caught me off guard. I did not see it coming at all. None of us on the show saw it coming. I was the only one off the show that didn’t continue with the company. At the time, I’m fresh. I’m 34, 35 years old but not very old in the business. I don’t know the business. At this point this is the first real adversity that I’ve ever faced in the radio business outside of me not feeling like I’m rising to a spot fast enough. It was a tough thing. I didn’t understand it. I knew we had a good show. We did so many things that I don’t even know have been done in Kansas City or much in radio. I’ll stand by it right now to this day. But they felt like I didn’t fit with that market, which is odd. I was the one from that place, but they didn’t feel like it with that market. Now I understand why they had to let me go. There was a spot for Vern [Josh Vernier], he was the pre and postgame Royals guy that everybody loved him for and you can slide him back there. There was a spot for Serda who was the producer. For me, what am I going to do? If I’m not going to host, what am I going to do? I was fired there, caught off guard and I was in an odd situation. At this point we have two children and my wife was pregnant with our third. Thanksgiving was the week that it happened. It was a really odd time and I remember talking to John Hanson. He had moved on to Minneapolis, Steve Spector was the program director at the time. I remember talking to John and he said ‘well, welcome to the radio business. It’s started now that you’ve gotten fired.’ It was a weird time and I gave myself probably about a week to be in my feelings. Then we’ve got to get it going. I got some calls from people. I talked to Jason Barrett extensively for a while about things. I met some really good people in the business. Maybe a month-and-a-half after, Armen Williams is on my voicemail talking to me about an opportunity in Houston. I remember I talked to Armen probably every day for about two weeks on my drive home from work. Just getting to know each other. I remember then talking to Clint Stoerner on a lunch break about things. Then they ended up bringing me down to do a test show, see how I would like Houston. After that, they wanted me to come down. I had to talk with the wife and see how that was. All of our support system was in Kansas City. Her parents, my parents. Both of our families live in Kansas City. We were about to have three kids and my wife had a great job where she was potentially going to take over as the CEO of the company. That was the track she was on. We had to make some real tough family decisions but it’s worked out very, very well for us. It’s one of the best decisions that we’ve made.
BN: That’s great, man. How would you compare the general vibe of the sports radio markets in Houston and Kansas City?
RH: It’s the craziest thing, Brian, I’m going to be completely candid here. I started to agree with Spector and Hanson a little bit about what happened with Kansas City. The thought was maybe my style and bringing the black church elements into it, the references that I would use or things of that nature, maybe didn’t play as well with the radio audience in Kansas City. Then coming to the most diverse city in the country in Houston, maybe that plays differently. But the thing that surprised me is it doesn’t. The very same listener base in Kansas City feels very similar to the same listening base in Houston even though it’s the most diverse city in the country. The radio listenership does not seem to represent what the city is. It was a very similar thing. Some of the response I get is very similar to that in Kansas City. I look at those things and that’s really frustrating. It sometimes gets me frustrated thinking that in the business, we’re really catering to the same audiences no matter where you are in the country. That’s one of the things that gives me a lot of motivation right now. Before this, my whole mindset was let me get this as high as I can. I’m in a top-10 market. Where can I go? How can I take this as far as it can go? Can I replicate what Nick Wright has done? That has completely changed now knowing the business and being in a different market.
BN: Where has your focus shifted to now?
RH: For me the number one thing that I want to see change is being able to put out the content that I want to put out, and having conversations that I want to have without feeling like I’m scaring people or I’ve got to temper myself because this audience won’t listen. I want to see the radio audience change. I know I may be being bullish on that, but I am so motivated that there’s more inclusion. For instance, this is something I’ve carried with myself, and I’m not throwing any shade toward Barrett or anything, but one of the things I look at every year is the top 20 that Barrett does. There were 260 available host seats and 29 were minorities on that list. Twenty-nine out of 260. That was something that jumped out to me and that’s a number that I carry in my head that I want to see change. It’s really eye-opening to see who believes those are the best shows because those are the people who make the decision to bring that in. I get it. Hey, this is what the audience wants to hear so I’ve got to put that out there. But man, it’s 2022. I want to see that change in a major, major way. We’re still pushing toward one audience. That’s my big motivation is to see that change. The example I give all the time is I want to be able to freely use Martin references just as anybody uses Seinfeld references. Right now, I feel the audience, it goes right over their head. That’s my goal and dream in this business.
BN: You’re unique and that’s great, but there are some people who don’t like different. What has your experience been like dealing with some people that might voice their frustration with you being different?
RH: It has happened. As you know change is hard and there are some people who are set in ‘this has been sports radio and this is how it has to be and this is the sound.’ I’m always this — and it sometimes gets me in trouble — I’m going to be me. At least I’m going to try to; I’m going to be me. I think when I first got here to Houston, I felt the pressure of, all right, I’ve got to make this job work. I just uprooted my family. My son is about to start his second different school in elementary school. I’ve moved my wife. I’ve got to make this work. That was maybe the first time I felt that way. But I just think eventually, I’ve got to be me. What’s gotten me here was being Show, was being me. There are going to be some people who don’t like it, but I eventually wear on people like Steve Urkel. I wear you down. I get this a lot: ‘I could not stand you. I just did not understand you. You were so loud. But the more I listen to you, I get it and I like it.’ I grow on folks and as I said I am just hoping also that the audience starts to kind of change and move over as well. We add more people so we’re not just having the traditional sports radio listener, that it’s more all inclusive and my style isn’t as wild or crazy sounding.
BN: Future-wise, what do you think would make you the happiest in sports radio or beyond?
RH: The thing that would make me the most happy has really changed. Moving to Houston really brought that up. I feel like before coming here and learning more about the business and everything about it, I was just living what I thought other people were doing. Hey, it would be great to have a gig like Bomani [Jones]. It would be great to get to a place like Nick [Wright] has. I think now for me the most important thing is doing the type of show that I want to do, putting out the type of content and having the conversations that I want to have. I am super motivated by having more people that look like me having a chance to be able to get into this business and to get different perspectives. And not just me, any minorities, women, anybody with just different perspectives in this business. That to me has been more important over the next 10 years for me than getting to a national level like I thought it was. That’s what I thought it was before coming here, but that has changed for me.
BN: What if Houston or some other market brings in a radio host who’s a white guy? With what you just explained about inclusion, what would be your reaction when you want to see things change and it’s not happening?
RH: I’m not saying any of those guys aren’t capable and aren’t good. I don’t have an issue with it. I think it’s just better if we had more perspectives. I think the audience is going to change if you have more perspectives. I’m going to be real with you, I think a lot of the reason why I didn’t know anything about sports radio growing up is because the people who controlled the radio were listening to people who they felt shared the same things that they shared. There were 29 out of the 260 available seats and we’re talking about this huge Brian Flores lawsuit. I’m not saying everybody has the same views because my views are probably very similar to what Danny Parkins’ views were. I remember getting in the car and listening to Parkins immediately. That was one of the first things I wanted to hear. More times than not you’re going to have a similar perspective being pushed out about a very serious thing, or in many cases because of the audience, that topic is thought to be kind of dangerous or we might scare or run people off so hell, they may just brush past it and not really talk about it. I think that needs to change. I feel like some things that I want to talk about or I have a perspective on are things that could be considered too scary for listeners or could be considered to make listeners uncomfortable enough to not want to listen. But I can tell you a whole lot of people that look like me, if they heard that I was on, they turn it on. That’s a perspective that’s not heard and when you’ve got 29 out of 260, it’s hard to get those other perspectives. I don’t have anything against hosts. Sean Pendergast that I work with is amazing. Seth Paine is great. Clint Stoerner, I work with every day, is great. Landry is great. I’m not talking about that. But at some point, man, 29 out of 260. That’s got to change.
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.