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.
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.
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.
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.
5 Goals: Rob ‘World Wide Wob’ Perez
“I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA.”
This month’s subject of five goals is Rob Perez, better known to NBA Twitter as World Wide Wob. The content creator and producer for FanDuel shared with me five things he wants to accomplish or see happen.
1. I want to make FanDuel, my licensing partner in content creation, as happy as possible.
My goal is to drive people to their web site or app, and spread the reach of the brand. I’m sure there’s a more formal word for that, but I want to organically integrate FanDuel into everything I do.
I don’t want to just be a commercial — hey 20% off, or here’s a free bet — because people are drowning in those across various forms of communication. All the content I do is naturally involved, and if someone’s asking about who’s favored it’s a very seamless type of content integration in which I can include them and drive them to FanDuel if they’d like to put their money where their mouth is.
I would certainly love the opportunity to continue working with them — not just because they pay me to do so, but I do find value in working with a sportsbook of that size that is turning into a content company. Of course, they’re always gonna be a sportsbook. It makes them the most money. But, giving you additional reasons to engage with that brand, if you have an itch to bet on something, is what my job is.
I want to continue to be the face of the NBA for them, having a very casual conversation about the game itself — whether that’s off the court stuff, or all the coaching departures earlier this week. Integrating the FanDuel logo into all this feels much more real than a 30-second commercial between timeouts. I want you to enjoy the experience of the show, and gamble if you so choose.
2. NBA Red Zone.
I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA. It would work best on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday, when there are 8-9 concurrent games.
That’s why I’m where I am today. I’m watching every single dribble of every single game. But, I would never expect any other normal human with responsibilities outside of NBA content creation to ever keep up with what’s going on between the Kings and Pistons while there’s seven other games on, one of which is nationally televised.
So, if the NBA ever decides to have a true commitment to their version of the Red Zone — they’ve tried versions of it on NBATV, but I’ve never seen one hopping between games every 15-20 seconds, hot switching any time there’s a play stoppage — I’d love to do it.
You’d have a Scott Hanson type host who is as integrated with the league as it gets. I hope maybe one day I have the opportunity where what I do on my own personal timeline merges with true rights partnership from the NBA. Just based on the feedback I get on my Twitter page, there would be demand for it.
3. Do another NBA variety show.
In the past, I had a show called Buckets that I did with Cycle and ESPN. It had sketches, pre-produced talk segments, and interviews. Think of it like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon’s shows, but applied to the NBA.
Inside the NBA is obviously the gold standard for an NBA talk show. But, those guys are going to retire at some point. What I do on Twitter Spaces, Twitch, and Periscope — I want the ability to blow that out with some more production resources.
Right now, I’m doing everything myself, from playing DJ to directing to taking calls to actually running the show and talking basketball and researching stats — I’m doing it all on the fly. While I’m certainly happy to do that, I know what we could create with a team around me because we’ve done it in the past. I would love to do a weekly variety show based around the NBA.
4. Some more work life balance.
My entire day for 11 months out of the year revolves around the NBA. It’s my job and I’m happy to. I love following it. At some point, I feel like I’m gonna get burned out, and I don’t want to ever get to the point where doing this feels like work.
It felt a little bit like work this year, and that might be because I’m on Year 8 doing this. [RG note: at this point, I mentioned how last offseason was so condensed after the bubble, and how the energy felt partially zapped out of sports with a lack of fans]. I’m gonna watch regardless because I’m a crazy person, but I think a lot of people would agree with you that the return to normalcy is helping with the engagement on a mainstream scale.
This offseason will be condensed again. We have the Olympics, which of course I’m going to watch because stars will be playing. Summer League is in August. There’s free agency and the draft. There’s barely going to be one month — September — where there probably won’t be a whole lot of NBA news or events.
But then we’re going back to the normal schedule from before the pandemic, which means Media Week will be the first week of October. There’s one month off before it all starts again, and I’m hoping I don’t get burned out by it.
Being on the East Coast, it’s impossible to follow the NBA 24/7. I don’t know how people with kids and families do it. Getting back to the West Coast is a personal goal of mine, which will happen this summer when I move back to Los Angeles. These hours will allow me to get back to a more normal life.
5. I want the Knicks to win a championship in my lifetime.
Just being a die hard Knicks fan and not seeing a title in my lifetime, that’s a personal goal. I’ve put so much work into watching every effing game since I was eight years old with Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the NBA playoffs.
I was young, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to stay up for those games. I was emotionally invested. I would even get to the point where I was putting towels underneath the door so my parents couldn’t see that the TV was on. They thought I was sleeping.
Of course I want my team to win a championship, and I don’t want to die without seeing that mountaintop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a Red Sox or Cubs fan and going all those years without seeing them win, then having it happen. I want to experience it once.
Whatever it takes to get there. I have too many gray hairs on my head, and every single one of them I can attribute to a single Knicks game from the past decade. Being a fan while trying to create objective NBA content will always be a challenge, but being a Knicks fan will always take precedent over a career because it means that much to me.
Forget the Email, Just Smile & Dial
“Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam.”
Back in August of last year, the pandemic was still front and center, acting as a roadblock for business. Retailers were in business and at the stores, but what about the advertising buyers? Where were they?
Well, the ad-buying community, corporate employees, and most white-collar workers were still at home. So were most of us in radio sales. So, when it came to prospecting for new accounts, some of us gave up, most sent emails, and a few brave souls hit the phone. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sales trainer John Barrows and how he got to the top by cold calling 400 prospects a week! That’s not cold emailing. That’s cold CALLING. And to be exact, if Barrows was working a 10 hour day on the phones Monday through Friday, he would dial at least eight prospects an hour.
Does that send a chill down your spine? Or does it make you want to run to your keyboard to avoid rejection and send some more cold emails? Back in August, when most of our ad buyers were at home, not near a business phone, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino were recording a podcast about why you should hit the phone, not the email. Both sales consultants and authors thought we could improve our connect rate immensely by working the phones over email.
Both authors agreed that we need to have conversations with people about our stations, personalities, shows, and the sports world! We can hire an automated CRM service to send emails!
Now I am all for some well-crafted custom emails sent to targets that do not answer phones or listen to voice mails but not as the first activity in a sales sequence. Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam. Our job isn’t to create awareness for buying sports radio packages; it is to make the sale!
We are consultants offering custom solutions to the unique challenges your clients have. And consider that if you pick up the phone and connect with the advertising buyer and get the appointment, you won’t need an email!
Both consultants agree that you don’t need email to warm up a client when using the phone to get the appointment! I recently tested this theory myself and decided that with the pandemic subsiding in most metropolitan areas and more buyers going back to the office, I could start hitting the phones more.
It worked. I got more appointments faster and wasted less time. I even got help. I had a business owner who I reached out to via email with a custom approach. I offered a few excellent ideas on how I could help him. Crickets. I let 2.5 weeks go by before I picked up the phone to dial the business and ask for him. They told me he was out on vacation and asked me if I had personal interaction with him. I explained no I was looking to connect with him on an advertising idea. The receptionist said you need to talk to Jane, the ad buyer. I was connected immediately.
I left a voice mail. The next day I received a return call indicating interest in my idea, and we set the appointment. Now, why didn’t I try that in the first place!
If you want a custom phone pitch that I wrote out for myself, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now it’s time to smile and dial!
Media Noise – Episode 33
It has been a busy week at BSM. Demetri Ravanos talks about Domonique Foxworth and the future of commentary on ESPN. Kate Constable stops by to discuss her column on Sarah Spain and the sometimes ugly realities of life as a woman in sports media. Finally, Brian Noe and Demetri discuss Le’veon Bell’s Twitter rant and how depressingly relevant it is in the radio business.