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From the Mound to the Booth With Shane Dennis

Tyler McComas

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The 1994 Wichita State baseball team came into the season with high expectations. That wasn’t a surprise to anyone, considering the previous three seasons had resulted in the Shockers making it to Omaha for the College World Series. 

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At that time, Wichita State was a college baseball powerhouse. Several All-Americans and future big league ballplayers, such as Eric Wedge, Darren Dreifort and Doug Mirabelli, made their way through a program that was annually competing for a national championship. Though the Shockers were never short on big names in the late 80’s and 90’s, the name Shane Dennis took a backseat to no one in the history of the program.

Much of the excitement heading into the ’94 season was the result of Dennis’s return as a starting pitcher. A soon to be All-American, he served as the Friday night starter for WSU as the ace of the pitching staff. 

A broadcast major at Wichita State, Dennis’s senior season in ’94 was probably unlike any other college baseball player in the country. On Friday nights, he would take the mound for the Shockers and put up zero after zero on the scoreboard. However, during Sunday games, he was up in the booth providing color commentary for the radio broadcast. 

Like most college baseball players, Dennis’ biggest dream was to play in the big leagues. After being drafted in the 7th round by the Padres out of college, he realized there was a realistic chance of reaching his lofty goal. But even during his journey throughout the minor leagues and short stint in Japan, Dennis remembered being the kid that was enamored with listening to Kansas City Royals radio broadcasts at his small-town home in southeast Kansas. At that time, Denny Matthews and Fred White were almost like heroes and became his inspiration. If baseball didn’t work out, he knew broadcasting was an avenue he’d love to explore. 

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After taking broadcasting classes and doing color commentary on Sunday games for the Shockers, he was sure the business was right for him. Granted, he didn’t know for sure if the people listening were a fan of his commentary, but he was having the time of his life, even if it meant a small amount of ribbing from his teammates. His broadcasting career had officially started. 

After finishing up his first year of pro ball with the Padres, Dennis returned to Kansas for the off-season. Fortunately, he was able to find a station in the town of Fort Scott that needed somebody to cover high school and JUCO football during the fall. The station couldn’t pay much, not really even anything outside of his mileage, but Dennis saw it as an opportunity to gain more experience and keep his foot in the door of the sports radio world. He wasn’t getting rich, but he was grateful for any experience at all. 

Dennis’ pro baseball career spanned over six years. The highlights included being named the San Diego Padres Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 1996, as well as getting to face big names such as Edgar Martinez in Spring Training and Ichiro Suzuki multiple times in Japan. After his career was done, he returned to Wichita and became the Director of Operations for WSU baseball for 13 years. In 2004, Dennis was inducted Wichita State Sports Hall of Fame. 

His success on the field and well-known name around the city, surely helped him land a job at Sports Radio KFH in Wichita, where you can hear him every weekday. Along with his co-host, Bruce Haertl, Sports Daily fills the 9-11 a.m. slot on KFH. The two like to keep it local, especially during college football and basketball season. The Shockers reign supreme on the airwaves at KFH and provide the local content a market like Wichita is out to capture. 

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Today, not only can you hear Dennis during his weekday show on KFH, you can also hear him as the analyst of Wichita State baseball. 

Like many other stories of hosts in the business, one funny turn can change the total trajectory of a career. It may be fair to say that the unorthodox plan of getting Dennis into the booth during his senior season, had a major impact on his future in sports radio. 

TM: When you did color commentary during the Sunday games at Wichita State, did you instantly realize you were pretty good or that you were a work in progress?

SD: Our play-by-play guy propped me up. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or not, and to be honest, I don’t remember a lot about it. But I do remember wondering if the people listening thought I knew what I was talking about. You have your doubts.

The key was that our play-by-play guy would set me up and ask what I would do in different situations. Because I was on the team, there was such unique insight without giving away the signs.

Basically, that broadcast gave you a free trip inside the dugout. I would really just talk about the team, the season we were having, insight on the players, who my roommate was, you know, just ordinary things you wouldn’t otherwise have. I think people liked that part of it. As far as the delivery and the content I gave, nuts and bolts, I probably wasn’t very good. 

TM: When you were calling Sunday games, did the guys on your team rib you a little bit or think it was cool?

SD: It was kind of half and half. It wasn’t like I showered and got into street clothes when I was up there. I was in full uniform and did all the stuff that they did. By that time, I was a senior so I didn’t have to take much from anybody. They kind of kept quiet (laughs).

TM: Do you think your baseball career helped you establish a name in Wichita that people still recognize when you’re on the air?

SD: Yeah, I would hope so. I’ve been on-and-off, mostly on, being the analyst with the same guy I was working with as a senior. He’s still there. Over the last several years, I’ve been the analyst on radio for Wichita State baseball games.

Over the last 4-5 years, I’ve been doing more and more TV broadcasts, like Wichita State basketball games, volleyball, women’s basketball, a lot of various sports. It’s what I want to do, and I would hope the program director of the daily show I’m doing now recognizes this is an easy decision and that I know what I’m talking about, have some street cred and believable.

Hopefully people can tell I majored in it. This is my second full year of co-hosting Sports Daily in Wichita and I really enjoy it. I look forward to it every day, you know how it goes, you can get paid to talk about sports. It’s a great gig. 

TM: Has there been a shift in Wichita the last 15 years, in terms of a transition to college hoops being the biggest story in town versus college baseball?

Image result for wichita state basketball regional champs

SD: From 1989 until 2005, the decade of the 90’s, really, basketball was just something to do until baseball season arrived. Now, unfortunately, it’s the opposite. I say unfortunately, because I’m a former player of the baseball program but they’re not as good as they use to be and now the basketball program is wildly popular.

There’s never been a happy medium with both programs, even though both have been great. It’s just always kind of been one or the other. I will say this, even when the program was down, the support for the basketball team has always been pretty good. Now that Gregg Marshall is here, it’s just gone crazy. The popularity has really shifted and hopefully we get into a situation where it gets more evened out, but that doesn’t look like the case right now. It’s always Shocker basketball season here. 

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TM: Is Wichita unique in the fact, that most every radio station’s peak season is football, whereas it may not be that way in your market? And who are the football teams you cover? 

SD: Kansas and K-State, you’ll always be able to find a hot button topic there. KFH, the station I’m on, we’re the home of KU sports. We have basketball and football. We have a good number of alumni and fans that will be listening for our take on KU in football and basketball.

There’s also K-State and the Chiefs, you know, just because Wichita State doesn’t have a football program, there’s no shortage of interesting stories with college football. There’s more than just passing interest with the state schools and Chiefs. 

TM: When would you say your peak season is with listeners? Is it during college hoops season?

SD: Absolutely, 100 percent. Now, baseball, normally, isn’t considered a talking point, or even a talking sport, but when the Royals were recently good, you’d be surprised.

During that time, I would often lead with Royals talk on my show. Now, you got to get creative with it, because on the surface, baseball is boring, but they were historically good. Right now, since October has rolled around, it’s all about Wichita State basketball. 

TM: What’s something about the Wichita market that most people don’t know, however you really enjoy? 

SD: I would say the accessibility of the programs. Long-term, I would like to have the opportunity to be the voice of the university. I think I’ve been around long enough and close enough to all the programs. People know that’s my goal but I like it here. Wichita State basketball is our pro sport and I think most of us around here are okay with that, especially considering how good they’ve been. I went to school and spent more than half my life here. It’s just beats working for a living and you hold on to something like this as long as you can. 

 

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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