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Matt Jones Talks Politics Because His Listeners Talk Politics

“People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t.”

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I’m a firm believer that anybody can learn something from everybody. It has never made sense to me why so many people close themselves off to others based on affiliation or differing beliefs.

Matt Jones is the creator of Kentucky Sports Radio. He hosts an entertaining show for 40 affiliates across the state. It wouldn’t make sense for listeners to steer clear of Matt based on his liberal views. It also wouldn’t add up for anyone in the sports radio industry to dismiss Matt’s philosophies simply because they vote red.

Matt’s approach to radio enables him to connect with people. One of his core philosophies is the belief that his job is to mirror the discussions that the audience is having. Matt also stresses the importance of relating to people and being authentic. If a host is authentic, relatable, and talks about the stuff the audience is already talking about, it’s impossible not to connect with listeners. 

I walked away from our conversation thinking, man, this dude gets it. His approach just makes sense. Whether it’s sports, politics, Kroger Plus cards, or mostly anything else under the sun, Matt has a talent for finding what will interest a wide range of people. In the immediate aftermath of Election Day when tensions are high, if you dismiss Matt’s wisdom because he leans left, you’re only hurting yourself. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: You’re a very liberal guy in a very conservative state. In what ways does that help and hurt your show?

Matt Jones: I’m not sure being a progressive in a conservative state helps the show at all necessarily. My reasoning for talking about things other than sports — and just so you know I don’t set out to talk about politics on the show and I only do it occasionally — but my view is as a radio host your job is to mirror the discussions that your audience is having. So in Kentucky my view has always been what are people in Kentucky, specifically Kentucky fans, what are they talking about? Over the last four years, if you try to act like people are not talking about politics, you’re just fooling yourself.

I think most people talk politics in a disrespectful way that people don’t like. They say this is what I think and if you don’t think it, you’re an idiot. That’s what most political discussion is. But that’s not what I do. What I try to say is look here’s what’s going on. This is kind of interesting. This is how I think about it, but if you think about it differently, that’s okay. That’s the way we do it.

I don’t sit and try to convince people that Trump is this or that. I tell people what I think about him, but it’s very light-hearted. A lot of conversation in sports about politics is kind of preachy, like you should believe this. I don’t do that. I don’t think an audience wants that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it in a respectful way of what you believe and why. I think my audience for the most part appreciates that.

BN: Do you get feedback of hey I disagree with you, Matt, but I appreciate what you’re saying?

MJ: Oh, all the time. Probably 75 percent of my audience, maybe a little less, but about 75 percent are Trump fans. If they didn’t think I was doing it in a respectful way I would have lost them. I’m not sitting there saying “Okay, Trump’s immigration policy is wrong for this reason or that reason”. But what I might say is, “Trump has just done this, here’s how it might affect you”. That to me is a conversation worth having. I think people can do that in a way that’s entertaining and respectful.

There’s no doubt in my mind that doing this has caused me to lose some listeners. But it has also gained listeners. One of the reasons my show is so popular and sort of dominates our area in a way very few sports shows do is because we have people listening who don’t really care about sports. There are a lot of people that listen to my show that would never listen to another sports show because they know we’re going to talk about things beyond who’s going to win a game.

BN: It’s a broad question, but what are some of the topics that might get commonly discussed on sports radio that you don’t find to be very interesting?

MJ: Everything. [Laughs] I find most sports radio mind-numbingly boring. We all watch these games. How much can you really say about them? There’s only so much you can say. Especially a local show where you only cover one team. How much is there to say?

Six months out of the year they’re not even playing. I have very little interest in reviewing play by play of a game. Everybody watched it. They already know what happened. If there’s a compelling moment — I’ll give you an example — Kentucky got a commitment from a recruit. I talked about it. I talked about what kind of player they got. I spent two or three minutes on it. But what else is there to say? There’s no debate. My audience has never seen this kid play. What can I say? There’s really not much more to say.

What’s much more interesting is Lane Kiffin got fined $25,000 for tweeting about a bad call that the SEC then admitted was a bad call. Should you get fined for saying something that’s true? That’s a good conversation. That’s how I do everything with the show. Is it an interesting conversation?

Lane Kiffin on paying his fine $25,000 fine in nothing but pennies. MUST  WATCH. - YouTube

I think people think I talk about politics all the time. I don’t. I talk about politics at most once a week. But what I don’t do is say well you can’t talk about politics because I just think that’s stupid. My view is the best radio hosts in America — for me the three most talented radio people of all time are Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and in sports I like Tony Kornheiser. What all three of those have in common, they are talking about their lives as a part of the subject that they’re talking about. That’s how you have success is doing it like that.

BN: Which presidential candidate winning would benefit your show more?

MJ: I guess on some level Trump is more entertaining and does more stupid things so it’s easier to have stuff to talk about, but it’s not about for me who wins or loses. It’s about what is happening that affects my listeners’ lives because compelling radio, in my opinion, whether it’s sports or anything else is just about relating to people and their lives. People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t. I don’t care who’s in charge or what’s going on. Every person in America every day has something that interests them and that is affecting their life. My job is to figure out how to have that conversation on the radio.

BN: Is it a fair assessment to say your show is what it is whether it’s before the election or after it?

MJ: Yeah, my show is what it is every day. Our ratings during COVID when there were no sports did not go down because our show is not so much about sports, it’s just about life. Again you go back to my premise, what is the average Kentucky fan caring about right now? Well in March during the NCAA Tournament the average Kentucky fan is caring solely about basketball. But in May when no sports are going on around here, they’re caring about other stuff.

You want to know the biggest thing I had on my show this year? We had a bet between me and my producer that he couldn’t walk 50 miles in 16 hours. I offered him $5,000 if he could walk 50 miles in 16 hours. It became a month long of talk on the show. He ended up doing it and literally all across Lexington people stood on the sides of the roads and cheered him on. That was the most listened to show we had all summer and it had nothing to do with anything. But every person in the state could listen and go well I think you can do it, or I don’t.

BN: Did you say 15 or 50?

MJ: Fifty. JFK when he was president apparently had this thing called the JFK challenge. He put five different things and wanted every American to try to do one of them. The physical component was walk 50 miles in 16 hours. When I said that my producer was like well I can do that. I was like no you can’t.

BN: [Laughs] How did it turn out?

MJ: He got it. He finished it. He finished in about 14 and a half hours. The last two hours we timed it so it was during my show, so that we walked next to him as he finished.

BN: Aww, man. That’s a great bit. What happened with the Republican Party getting you pulled off the air last year when you were thinking about running for Senate?

MJ: Yeah, that was a bunch of bullshit. I was considering whether to run. As part of that I had created this committee so that I could raise a little bit of money to poll and stuff like that. The Republican Party of Kentucky filed something with the Federal Election Commission basically saying it wasn’t fair that I was on the radio while I was thinking about running.

It was complete nonsense. They were wrong and ultimately if the Federal Election Commission ever actually exists again that will be proven. But my radio station understandably didn’t want to worry about it. So I just went off the air until I decided officially not to run.

BN: How long were you off the air?

MJ: About a month. It was ridiculous. Mitch McConnell is on television every single day whenever he wants raising millions upon millions of dollars but it was unfair of me to have a sports radio show. That’s just so stupid. But McConnell is the master of cheating the system for his own gains.

McConnell to keep grip on GOP even if Republicans lose Senate - POLITICO


BN: Why did you ultimately not run for Senate?

MJ: I ended up not doing it for a variety of reasons. Mostly just that it wasn’t the right time in my life and I thought it was going to be difficult to win because in the primary and the general election there was a candidate that had a ton of money. Amy McGrath in the primary and Mitch McConnell in the general. It was going to be tough to leave this thing I created. I created this whole enterprise kind of out of nothing and it was going to be hard just to walk away.

BN: What are some of the specific things in your own life that you incorporate into the show?

MJ: I just talked about experiences I have. I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t have one of those little Kroger Plus cards. I asked the woman behind me if I could borrow hers and she said no. It really annoyed me. We literally turned that in to a half hour of radio. It was me telling the story and being like why did she do that? That became one of our most popular bits. Little stuff like that.

Not everybody cares about politics. Not everybody cares about sports. But everybody has to go to the grocery store. Everybody eats food. That’s the way you connect to people on other levels.

BN: How big of a role does your supporting cast have on the show?

MJ: Huge. The three other people on the show — Ryan Lemond, Drew Franklin, and Shannon Grigsby — we’ve made it to where everybody knows who they are. We have our fill-in producer Billy Rutledge and people know who he is. I think the key to radio is authenticity. The reason why I genuinely believe KSR is more popular in Kentucky than virtually any sports radio show in America is popular where they are is because our whole purpose is to connect to the personality and community of the state.

To me the shows that work are about a sort of lifestyle or thought process rather than about a sport or even politics. The reason why most shows can’t do politics or shouldn’t is they believe their job is to preach the politics to the listener. I don’t think the listener wants that. I believe the job is to make the subject — politics or whatever — interesting. That’s a different thing than preaching.

BN: It’s interesting, Matt; talking to you I’m just thinking about some of the hot-take artists that try to stand out that way. Would you be of the opinion that you can stand out more just simply by connecting with people instead?

MJ: A hundred percent. This is not the way people do radio, but to me anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be the MVP. Who cares? But if you can get people to care about your lives and to care about what’s going on in your existence, that’s what talent is to me. I can’t listen to people argue is LeBron the GOAT. There’s not going to be one thing they say that is any more unique than anything I’ve ever heard.

Tony Kornheiser used to talk every day on his show about the Washington Nationals. I couldn’t care less about the Washington Nationals. But I did care about Tony caring about the Washington Nationals. When he would talk about watching the game and being frustrated, if the Nationals lost in a torturous way, the next day I wanted to hear what he said just because I cared about him. I think that’s what good radio is. When you think to yourself “I know this is going to affect this person and I can’t wait to hear what they say about it”.

Famous broadcaster Tony Kornheiser inducted into the Washington DC... News  Photo - Getty Images

BN: If you find something interesting regardless of what category it’s in, you want to talk about it. Could you thrive in a place that was strictly about sports and didn’t let you do that?

MJ: I don’t know. It’s a great question. Could I do a straight Mike and Mike morning show? I don’t know, man. I think I’d have to do a show where whoever was my boss trusted me to sort of — I’ll follow the parameters of whatever they want, but I’ve got to have the ability to sort of do it my way.

Would some boss let me do it nationally daily? I don’t know. But I do know this, the radio show hosts that are transcendentally good — Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Tony Kornheiser, Le Batard — they all do that. Those shows are all based on their personalities. I don’t know why radio executives don’t want that. Isn’t that what the goal is? To create shows that are sort of machines? To do that you have to base it around the personalities of the people that do it. The two best sports TV shows of all time in my opinion are the TNT NBA show and Pardon The Interruption. Why? Because they just let those people be themselves. I don’t know why that’s not what every show tries to be. You just have to let people be themselves.

BN: This might be a stupid question, but I’m interested in what your answer is. There are a lot of women that have to jump over hurdles because a lot of idiots say, “Ehh, you’re a woman. What do you really know?” Do you think you might face similar hurdles being from the South with a lot of people saying, “What’s this backwoods hick going to tell me about sports?”

MJ: Oh, of course. When people hear a Southern accent they think you’re stupid. I get that. The only times you hear Southern accents on the radio nationally is if they do a show that’s like look we’re Southern, sort of like Marty & McGee. That’s their thing; look we’re Southern guys. That’s fine. I like their show a lot. Those are good dudes.

There are a lot of people that know more about sports than me. A lot. Most people. But just be honest with the audience and be like look I don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.

I’m in Kentucky. Hunting is huge here. I don’t know any of it. I’ve never shot a gun. I don’t know. But my audience likes the fact that he may know about law and politics but he doesn’t know anything about hunting. I let them make fun of me for how little I know about it. Just be honest with them and I think people appreciate that.

BN: When you look to your future in broadcasting, what do you think would make you happiest?

MJ: I’d love to have a national show someday just to see if it would work. I think it would. But it has to be the right one. I’ve had opportunities to do some national stuff that I just didn’t think would work.

I’d love to have a chance to see if what I have done locally can transcend to a regional or national level. I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen to be honest. We’re very successful here so I can’t leave unless it’s the perfect opportunity. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I would love to do that at some point.

Beyond that I wrote a book that was a best seller. I really enjoyed that. I’d like to do some more writing. I think the best thing in life is to try as many things as possible. Some things you find you’re good at. Some things you don’t. To me try everything and enjoy it whether you succeed or you don’t.

BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.

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BSM Writers

Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio

“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”

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Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon.  Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight. 

Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.

A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show.  Especially in sports.

Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.

On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.

First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.

On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly.  Never interrupt the guest with an ID.

Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.

“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”

In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.

We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up.  He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.

Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard.  It was a really inciteful chat.  Never was on the podcast.

Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.

“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”

“Have you seen a life for you after football?”

“How much do you hate a certain player?”

All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.

Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway.  The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.

I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.

Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.

Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.

Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.

(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)

The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming. 

Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks. 

They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.

Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.  

Quality shines through the speakers.  The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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BSM Writers

National Voices Can Work For Local Clients

“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”

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Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.

I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.

In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.

Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area.  The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen. 

Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!

If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.  

Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it. 

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