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.
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.