Sports veterans have traditionally dominated the world of sports radio. In Nashville, men with decades in the business of sports broadcasting like George Plaster and Joe Biddle make up a significant part of local sports radio. The old guard of sports radio speak to a similar demographic of older devotees with little focus on younger audiences.
When Sports XTRA debuted on WNSR SportsRadio 560-AM Jan. 11, its hosts overtly challenged that dynamic.
For three hours each day, Belmont alumnus Henry Nichols (’08) and Minnesota transplant Jeff Thurn break down the local and national sports news of the day with a youthful style incongruous with the sports radio stereotype. The two met while covering Titans football games –Nichols for CBSSports.com and Thurn for WNSR – and bonded over a shared sense of humor and fondness for radio.
“We only met a few months ago,” Nichols said. “It was ‘why don’t we have a show together’ just based on conversations we had at Titans games.” They’re still feeling out their show’s place in Nashville, but they have made it clear that their goal is produce a show that young people would want to listen to.
“We’re the punk rock band of Nashville radio shows,” Nichols said. “We have the same mentality in what we’re doing, the whole do-it-yourself from scratch mentality that punk rock bands have and we’re just as edgy.”
In their short time on the air, the twenty-something hosts have cultivated an irreverent tone aimed toward Howard Stern listeners and FHM subscribers. Golfer Tiger Woods’ sex scandal has become a popular target as of late for the two. At one point, Thune suggested that Woods skip rehab and accept his role as a ladies’ man.
That kind of statement might cause outrage on the older shows, but it’s only par for the course on Sports XTRA.
“We are different people than most of the people who do sports talk radio,” Nichols explained. “We’re more reflective of our generation than their generation.”
The show caught its biggest break only a day after debuting. Sports XTRA was the first media outlet to break the story of former University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin accepting a job coaching for the University of Southern California.
“We got really lucky,” Nichols said. He proudly claims that the show was the only call-in sports radio show in the area to open up the phone lines to let Volunteers fans vent their frustrations about Kiffin, who had been a controversial figure since joining the Vols’ staff in 2008.
Controversy is only a small part of Sports XTRA’s attempts to build a younger show. Everything from the show’s contemporary hip-hop music lead-ins to their presence online suggests a different kind of show than what sports radio fans are used to.
“Our general managers have both said that they think this is the best social media show that they’ve ever had,” Nichols said. The Facebook page for Sports XTRA is updated constantly with news and commentary. The show’s page is more active than the fan pages for 104.5 The Zone and WNSR combined.
Though the show is still finding its balance, Nichols already has big plans for where he wants the series to go next.
“I think the high school market is a completely untapped audience,” Nichols said. “If you did it the right way, you could completely market to a high school audience and get really good ratings if you give them ownership of it.”
At the same time, Nichols and Thune remain focused on offering a show that appeals to both college students and their inherited older demographic. In order to make that work, they’re taking a play from Howard Stern’s book.
“We do want to make people mad, but we don’t want to make them mad so they turn off, we want to make them mad so they tune in,” Nichols said.