It’s rare I get a night off without anything work-related to do and tonight is one of those great evenings. So of course, I felt the need to write a quick blog post and take my restless energy away from more leisurely pursuits (Raw, The Bachelor and my book “Confidence Men” weren’t holding my attention). Since our decision last summer to take our radio show to the GOP and Democratic National Convention, I have gotten more comments about the decision I have made to not “Stick to Sports” on KSR and Hey Kentucky. The question I usually get is some form of, “Matt, why would you want to alienate half our audience and talk about politics/current events when you could just talk about UK Sports?” It is a fair question and one that I think is worthy of an explanation. UK Athletics is a commonality that bonds the vast majority of this state (at least the sane non-UL citizens) and there are some who wonder why I would want to deviate from that topic to talk about anything else, especially something that is seen as so divisive as politics. This blog seems like as good a forum as any to explain my thinking and whether you agree or disagree, at least give my viewpoint:
1. KSR has Never really Stuck to Sports
A common theme around the question of whether I should stick to sports it the belief that somehow we are acting differently than we have in the past. This just isn’t the case. From Day One of KSR, other topics besides sports have been a major part of the site. From the earliest days of the blog, we have written about topics ranging from The Bachelor to Kentucky county reviews to ranking the women of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show (still Turkey Hunter’s best work). I started KSR not to become what it has become…the central place for UK fans to get news about the Cats. I started KSR as a place to create a sports community based upon one commonality (UK Sports) that becomes the starting point for broader entertainment. I used to write a nightly post that was nothing but my thoughts on life, about half of which were about UK and the other half about whatever else was on my mind. I was never interested in creating solely a “UK News” site. I wanted a UK Fan community site…and the blog and the radio show after were created to reflect that.
2. UK Athletics is still BY FAR the biggest thing we do on all KSR Forums
Sometimes I will see critics (usually on message boards) claim that “KSR doesn’t even talk sports any more.” That is insanity. The VAST majority of every show is still about UK, the games, the players, the coaches, etc. Except during the summer (when there is little to say about anything sports related), virtually every show begins with UK talk and certain of our programs (like the Post Game Show) are almost exclusively sports-centric. What often happens is that when other topics come on the radio (like politics, or fast food brackets or cantaloupes), people magnify their importance by exaggerating the amount of time we spend on them. With the exception of our shows hosting Debates, I can’t think of a show ever where more than one segment was ever spent on politics or current affairs. The reality is that I know those topics have limited shelf lives and thus we spend small amounts of time on them…just like the Grammys, wrestling, country music, tennis, Ryan’s wife fights, etc, they are things we touch on and then move on. The show moves quick, but the only thing that is continually brought up over and over….UK Athletics.
3. People Like When we don’t Stick to Sports
Which brings me to the main point…whether people realize it or not, I don’t stick to sports because the audience doesn’t like when I do. I am a numbers guy…I study all the metrics of radio, tv, blogs, viewership, listenership, readership, etc with intense detail. When it comes to marketing and studying audience behavior, I am the dorkiest of dorks. I know our audience…and here is the reality. The more we deviate from sports, the more our audience grows. That is the secret to KSR…people ask me all the time, “why is KSR so popular?” Well in part it is because of how huge the BBN is…but there have been a ton of UK radio shows over the years and there are many others now…why has KSR hit the mark? Because we don’t stick to sports. KSR is about our lives…period. IT isn’t just about UK Athletics…any idiot can talk about that and most can do it with more knowledge than I, Ryan or Shannon have. But KSR is about living the fan experience on the radio and opening up our lives to share them with you. If you listen to the show, you know me…maybe not as if we were really friends but what you hear on the air is pretty close to how I really am. The same is true of Ryan, Shannon, Drew, etc. We are authentic and as such, we talk about whatever is important to us…often it is UK sports. But it isn’t always. And the reality is that as we have increased our talk about non-UK topics, our ratings have increased.
In 2016, our highest rated radio shows in terms of ratings and online listeners showcased this variety. Our 5 highest weeks were those of the Katina Powell interview, the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, the two political conventions we attended and the week of the election. Why were those the highest weeks? In my opinion, because they were the weeks where we were a part of some of the biggest stories in the state and country, either because we attended them, did the interviews or expressed our thoughts. It is that simple. All of you know that if you want sheer expertise on UK Sports, we aren’t the people for you. We are entertainers with a few inside connections and we find a way to present all the relevant UK news in “the most ridiculous manner possible.” But the reality is that to make the show as popular as it currently is, we have to extend it beyond the hardcore UK sports fan world…we have to get the casual fan, the college students, the grandmas, the folks who like to laugh. Leave the hardcore talk for everyone else…we are trying to reach a mass audience…and to do that, you have to get beyond the relative tedium of constant sports chatter.
Bottom line…individuals often dislike a particular topic we might discuss. But it is because we talk about all those topics that there are so many diverse individuals that listen. Nobody is going to like every topic…but we hope everyone can like some topic.
4. The Show is a Reflection of Me and I think variety is interesting and important
All of that brings me to my last point. I think KSR is an amazingly unique situation found almost nowhere else in the country. In the middle of a state with no top 50 metro areas and no professional sports team, a radio show gets record-setting ratings and is nationally relevant while sticking to no obvious sports formula. A show hosted by a (moderate) progressive is listened to by a (majority) conservative audience and both sides (for the most part) respect their differences. Breaking every supposed Radio demographic assumption, a “Sports” show can not only win the 25-54 male demo, but every relevant demo, including females, Seniors and kids. That simply doesn’t happen…but it happens on KSR. On the same television show in one 30 minute segment, the hosts can debate whether White Nationalists holding a rally at a state park, interview John Calipari’s wife and do a parody of “The Bachelor.” There is literally nowhere else in the country where those can all happen in the same place. The same radio show can in one week, debate a UK football win, host a Governor’s Debate, have the Sklar Brothers co-host, fight with Dan Dakich, have a Chester/Darryl debate, interview the UK Athletic Director and host a Fast Food Bracket. I know of no other show that does that, but we do.
At the end of the day, most people who complain about me not “sticking to sports” do so because they are very Conservative, care deeply about politics and don’t want to hear from a “stinkin’ liberal” they disagree with. I understand that. And I acknowledge that expressing my opinions on some issues (especially in the Trump era) may cause some of those folks to not want to listen. I wish that weren’t the case, but I know that it happens. However I believe that the vast majority of people want authenticity and to hear what people really think, even when they disagree. For many of those people, I can be their “one liberal friend”, a description I have been called many times on the road and one I am always appreciative of. I am who I am…a dork from Middlesboro who found his way to a lottery ticket of a life by being in the right place at the right time and getting to live his dream. From day one I have been determined to be my total authentic self on the air and not be fake no matter what. I don’t think my opinions are better than anyone else’s and I certainly don’t feel it is my job to “educate” my listeners on my opinions (liberal sportswriters who use this excuse do make me gag since many are significantly less informed than they believe). Instead, I just share them because like my opinions on topics as far ranging as Sturgill Simpson to tennis, my political views are just sometimes on my mind. But so are lots of other things as well. If you have listened to the show from the beginning, you have heard me really suck initially, laugh consistently, get impatient with callers, cry at listeners’ stories, complain about my bosses, make stupid jokes, be a mediocre Fish and Wildlife Spokesman, fight with Ryan, break up with a girlfriend, eulogize my Grandmother, consider running for Congress, apologize for dumb comments, challenge power, be a mama’s boy, get fired, make plans I never follow through with, celebrate wins, call for coaches’ jobs, create awkwardness, tease John Short and anything and everything in between. The show is me, warts and all…and that includes not “sticking to sports.”
With that, I have some wrestling to watch (April 11 Smackdown comes to Yum Center…see you there!)