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Jason Ross Wants To Be Everywhere & Do Everything

“Generally I really love it in October and November. The Kings are going. I’m consumed with college football on the weekend and the prep that takes all week. Then a show and being the program director.”

Brian Noe

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Personal happiness is mostly tied to your mindset — whether you have a positive or negative outlook on the things you experience in life. In spite of having numerous responsibilities and a very hectic schedule, Jason Ross actually prefers his job to be challenging. It’s a good thing he views things favorably. Jason could become a crazy person if not.

His sports radio journey began at Sports 1140 KHTK back in 1994. Jason has remained in Sacramento ever since. Jason’s list of duties include talk show host, program director, pre/half/postgame host for Sacramento Kings basketball, and the radio voice of Sacramento State football since 1997. This definitely qualifies as challenging to say the least.

They say timing is everything. Whoever “they” happens to be has it right. Jason had to choose between two opportunites; he chose a fill-in shift for two weeks that turned into a 25-year career at the same station.

He shares great insight below in a very conversational tone. Jason also shares his thoughts about the role he covets most going forward. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: When did you figure out that you wanted to pursue sports radio as a career?

Jason Ross: It was pretty easy for me. I can pinpoint it exactly. I was a junior at UC Davis and I went to school to play sports and to possibly be a veterinarian. I was trying out for the basketball team. I made it all the way to the end and was one of the last cuts. That very weekend the men’s team was going to have their first game. One of my friends was working at the campus radio station and he said, “Hey, you know the team. You’ve been around the guys. I need someone to do color commentary with me. Would you like to sit in with me?

I thought, “Well I love sports. I’ve watched sports all my life. I want to stay involved in some way. Sure.” The second I did the first game, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Then I got an opportunity to do the women’s games. Everybody that was at the campus station at the time was a senior or moving on, or graduating and going to grad school.

That very next year I was a senior and I was the program director at the campus station. Then I got a chance to create my own show, do football, basketball, baseball, get commercials, sell, just all of it, everything all-encompassing. Right then and there I said, “Yeah, this is exactly what I want to do.”

Noe: You almost were a veterinarian?

Ross: (laughs) That was one of my goals. I wanted to play sports as long as I possibly could. I was actually on the baseball team my first year. I was a redshirt. It was a loose program that way where you could be a redshirt and be around. I really was just there for that, for the beginning of that first year. But then I was always playing basketball, basketball, basketball. That’s where in my third year; I tried out for that team.

I went to school thinking that would probably be my long-term goal. I think it was my sophomore summer in college; I worked at a veterinarian’s office. I liked it, but I kind of realized then that I don’t think that was the career path I wanted to go down. Shortly thereafter was when the opportunity to do some radio work happened and that’s when I fell in love with it.

Noe: What was the first station that you worked at?

Ross: I’m also unique in that regard. The second my college time ran up, I started putting out all of the flyers and feelers to see what can be next for me. I had an opportunity to go back home to Orange County and work at the Orange County Newschannel, which was a 24-hour news station at the time that was relatively new and have an internship. Or at Sports 1140, which was at the time Hot Talk 1140, in Sacramento as a part-time, fill-in board op for two weeks.

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There was going to be a guy that was going to be on vacation for two weeks and the station needed a board op. I was really torn on which one to do, but I went for — as sad as it was — the money. It turned out the guy never came back. I got a job at the station and I’ve been there for 25 years. People move all over the place. I just stayed in one spot. Everybody’s got a different path, but that’s been mine.

Eventually that same summer, the station got the Sacramento Kings. We turned into a sports station. It was just incredible timing. My boss at the time said, “Hey, we’re going to need a locker room reporter. I said, “I’ll do it.” You just start saying you’ll do weekend shifts and work holidays and all of the things you have to do to move up. I’ve been at the same place longer than anyone at that station for 25 years.

Noe: The only reason you chose Sacramento was because the fill-in gig was paid?

Ross: Probably, and maybe being comfortable. I was still living in Davis. School had just ended. All of my friends were still here. I could have gone home. It seemed to make sense to at least try that to me. I had a girlfriend at the time. Friends, girlfriend, it was all still happening up here. Could I have gone home? Sure, but I took my chances on that and little did I know it would be just the greatest decision I could have made.

Noe: What do you remember most about those two weeks of fill-in work?

Ross: It was a nationally syndicated non-sports talk show. It was just learning the business, running the board, playing carts, cutting tape, just literally the old-school radio that’s not even a thing anymore. Just trying to figure that out. It just all seemed like it moved so fast — making my mistakes and figuring out the business. Not that you figure it all out certainly in two weeks, but just starting to dip your toe into it and figuring out what I didn’t know.

Noe: When you’re wearing so many hats — on-air guy, PD, doing the Kings stuff, play-by-play — what part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Ross: I would say my number one thing that I love more than anything is play-by-play. I just love the art of that. The preparation. No game is the same. The people you meet. You could have two terrible teams and you see the greatest individual performance or team performance that day. You could also see the worst thing. You see someone score seven touchdowns, someone score 60 points, someone go 0-for-25. The greatest dunk, the worst pass. I love that.

I just love all of those things about play-by-play and the art of calling it. Did I describe it perfectly there? What could I have done better? Then I try to take that same approach to the other elements too — creating a show, trying to do the best that I can for the station. I think overall my favorite thing by far is play-by-play.

Noe: Do you find yourself listening closer to play-by-play guys or sports radio hosts?

Ross: That’s a great question. Probably both because I think you can identify where someone is missing something, or what someone is good at based on your own experiences. For an example, in play-by-play — I know this has happened to me before — I take pride in knowing who everyone is out on the field and having as much prep on the court.

Football is the trickiest one. There are 11 offensive guys and 11 defensive guys. Maybe a ball is tipped and it’s a backup linebacker. In that moment you may not know who picked it off. Then you recover and you look at your chart and you find out who it is.

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I can listen to a game especially on radio and hear someone that gets caught up in that same thing and describes a pass, “It’s picked off and they’re going the other way.” I say, “Oh, they don’t know who it is,” because I’ve been there. I know that they don’t know who it is and then they catch up and they go, “Oh, that was John Smith with the pick, his third of the season.” I say, “Okay, they got it. They recovered and handled it well.”

It’s the same idea on a talk show when someone asks a question, or they’re trying to go somewhere. I go, “Oh, they’re trapped. They’ve got a crutch.” Probably from what my own mistakes have been I can hear where people maybe get stuck in play-by-play or on talk shows.

Noe: What was your crutch word that was pointed out to you?

Ross: (laughs) I had a football game. Sacramento State was playing Cal State Northridge and they ran what would be like a run-and-gun offense. Their football program doesn’t even exist anymore, but they said, “Hey, I heard the game. You know how many times you said quick hitter?” I said, “Quick hitter?” Really?” They said, “You said it all the time.”

I went back and listened to the tape and it was disgusting. I literally said it for almost every pass. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have guessed I ever said it. I’d say, “Quick hitter over the middle. Quick hitter.” I mean it was disgusting. I said it way too much, but it was great that someone told me that. You need someone policing you out there, if it’s not yourself, because it’s hard sometimes to go back and listen to your work consistently.

That was constructive. It wasn’t meant to be mean. If someone can be honest with you like that, it’s really helpful. I think we can all get caught up in saying some of the same things. That’s the art of play-by-play too is describing something similar with different words and different sayings and being creative. That was frustrating, but a good lesson.

Noe: Play-by-play is so fluid and constantly moving forward based on how the game unfolds. Do you think that impacts you as a sports radio host where maybe you tend to move through topics more fluidly than other hosts?

Ross: I’m not sure because I only know this way of doing play-by-play and doing a talk show. I think the art of doing a talk show has been extremely helpful the other way around with play-by-play. I know a couple of years ago, the Kings had a game in Philadelphia. I was back in the studio doing the pre, half, and post — threw it out to Gary Gerould to basically start the coverage and there was condensation still on the hardwood from the ice underneath.

We had a delay, and then another delay. It was filling time, and now back in the studio. I’ve done talk shows so I know how to fill time, but that was a little unique because are we filling five minutes? Is this going to be 10? Is this going to be 30? The art of being able to talk and find different storylines and find things to talk about, but also being able to cut it off if you have to go right back out to the venue. It ended up that the game was postponed and made up on another day. It was a unique night. I felt that if I was at the game by myself doing play-by-play, I would have been able to fill too, but I was back at the studio and you just kind of have to adjust.

The practice of being in a talk show format where you might have a 12, 15, 20-minute segment, hopefully with someone else, but if you’re by yourself, you’ve got to be able to fill that airspace. It’s not always easy, but hopefully you’ve got enough reps that — alright you’ve got to go for 25 minutes straight and we’re in a crisis. Alright let’s go — and just figure out how to fill the space.

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Noe: When you mention how sports radio has changed over the years with smartphones and smart speakers and all these different choices that people have, what do you think is the most important aspect to keep in mind as a sports radio host as you structure your show?

Ross: I still think if it’s a topic that’s interesting to me, I hopefully then can relate that as something that’s interesting to someone else. If you’re digging for topics just to bring it up and I’m not buying it, I don’t know that the consumer there is going to go, “I’m all in on this.” Not everybody is going to love every segment of everything that you do. That’s impossible to please everybody.

I think if you find stuff that’s interesting to you for an angle, or a storyline, or a human-interest element that you feel that you can convey, then I think you’re going to do your best job at least at that, and in the end, feel good about the content you’re delivering. Again that’s not going to be for everybody, but at least then you know you were doing your best job. I think you just have to continue. I try to find the things that interest me and then that way hopefully I’m telling the best stories or relaying the best angles of those stories.

Noe: During an Army-Navy football game, they’ll take a player’s schedule and say at 0600 this guy wakes up and does this, and at 0700 he does that. That thought came to mind as it relates to your schedule. When you have so much on your plate, how does your day generally set up?

Ross: (laughs) It’s different based on the different times of the year. It’s funny that you say that because maybe when the Kings season ends, there’ll be a couple of days where it’s just not as much on my plate. But then I also find myself — it’s not bored — but it’s not as hectic. I think I prefer a lot of plates spinning. I love all of this.

Generally I really love it in October and November. The Kings are going. I’m consumed with college football on the weekend and the prep that takes all week. Then a show and being the program director. It’s completely hectic, but I love that. Different times of the year it varies, but generally I’m at the radio station by about 8:30 and trying to do program director type things for a couple of hours.

I try to transition into the radio show mode at some time during that, at least a half hour or so before the show. It’s the show from noon to 3. Then it just depends on if it’s a Kings night or not, but get back in the program director type mode. If it’s a game, you could be at the arena until 10:30 or 11 or at the station until 10:30 or 11 — it just depends on whether the game is East Coast or West Coast.

I don’t ever look at it like, “Aww man, I got to be at the station for 12 to 14 hours.” Maybe the next day there is no game and I’m at the station until 5:30 or so. It evens out and there’s less weekend work in the non-basketball and football season, but there’s always something going on and I actually prefer it that way.

Noe: Is it ever hard to avoid thinking negatively about your different roles meaning, “Hey, if I didn’t have this PD meeting, I could put a little bit more into the prep for my show,” or vice versa. Is there ever that mindset that you have to guard against?

Ross: Probably, yes, because I feel guilty at times. I’ve got a great partner now in Damien Barling who I do the midday show with. He is amazing. He is a preparer. He gets the show put together.

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I try to do as much as I can, but sometimes I feel like I cheated him because, “Oh man, this day I had a meeting at 9 and a follow up at 10. A crisis happened and I’m rolling in at 11:50 and we’re 10 minutes from showtime. I have an idea of what we’re doing, but I don’t feel like I contributed enough at least on that day.

Other days I do more. It’s just kind of a day-by-day basis. If it was a perfect world, I’d have time to do all of that, but sometimes I don’t. That part has been a challenge for me for sure.

Noe: Was there ever a realization you came to that helped you approach each day the way you have?

Ross: I still have the guilt. I don’t know that I’ve ever resolved myself from that. I think I’m better than ever with time management, but again it’s never perfect. I could come to work on a day and go, “I kind of have everything lined up. I’m in good shape. I can spend some real good time on the show.” Then a phone call, an email, a text, three things happen and all of a sudden I’m in crisis mode on something that I had no plan for.

You have to be ready to handle those things even when you think, “Alright, I’m going to have a good hour and a half, two hours here, where we can really lay out a great show.” Then it falls back to me rolling in near the end and Damien doing all of the heavy lifting.

Noe: I remember times when I’d get a phone call from a salesperson two minutes before I was about to do a show. I’d think, “They have no idea what it’s like to do a show.” Do you have that thought go through your head more, or the thought of, “You have no idea what it’s like to be a program director”?

Ross: The only thought I ever get sometimes on that is when someone will say, “Hey, can we meet tomorrow at 2?” I’ll say, “I’m on the air.” Sometimes it’s a concept of, “You’re selling the show. You know I’m on 12 to 3.” That one will get me every once in a while.

If it gets too close to that window, unless it’s the biggest of bosses or a true, true crisis, sometimes I’m just not answering that phone or that email. I’ll go, “Okay, well I’ll have to get to that after the show.” Or if it seems a little more important, “Alright I’ve got a four-minute break here, I can knock out a quick email.” But I try not to lose focus on the show at least in that three-hour window. Sometimes that’s hard to avoid.

Noe: What aspect of your many roles comes the easiest to you and which aspect do you think is the most challenging?

Ross: I guess just the love of sports I hope transfers over to all of them. I don’t know how much it does to being a program director, but to the play-by-play, to the talk show it does. I like people. I think I’m good with people so that helps. The most challenging thing I think is the program director for sure. I’ve worked under so many different ones and they have their style. I can only do it my way.

I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way, but I’m trying and I try to be there for people. I try to listen. I don’t think I have it all figured out so I try to be a good listener. I try to communicate what I think is best. If someone has an idea I’m all for it. I think that one is the one that takes the most work for me. It’s my newest of the jobs.

Noe: When you’re a fellow sports radio host, do you find it challenging to critique another talent when it might be something that you’re violating yourself?

Ross: (laughs) Yes, I try to use myself as an example. I’m not perfect and it’s very subjective. There are people that like my show, there are people that don’t. There are people that love our other shows, there are people that don’t. There’s not one way that’s considered right.

I try to point out something that’s a little bit more constructive like you’ve got to hit breaks on time. Stuff like that as opposed to — I try to stay away from content. If someone’s got and idea and it seems like a reach to me, I don’t know that I would talk about that, but in the end if you can pull it off and tell a great story, or get some emotion out of that, or say something funny, well that worked.

I try to do it more in the realm of something that’s truly constructive and may be beneficial overall for the concept of the show as opposed to, “Hey, I wouldn’t talk about this,” because who follows that? You know? I try to stay away from that.

Noe: You’ve been in Sacramento for so long. Do you see yourself remaining there always, or do you think the future will play out differently?

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Ross: I’ve almost been here 25 years. I’ve only been here and it’s tough to see me anywhere else. I’ve applied sporadically to other things over the 25 years, but really wondered, “Man, if I did get that job, would I really leave? I’ve been in California my whole life. My family is out here. Would I do that?”

So at this moment I can’t picture myself anywhere else. I love Sacramento. It’s been great. The station’s been great to me. The Kings. Sacramento State. The community. There’s no reason for me to leave unless there was some offer out there that I was like, “Man, I can’t turn that down.” I’m really happy where I am.

Noe: That’s cool, man. You can’t mess with happy. What do you do outside of sports — I don’t want to say as a release because this is what you love to do, but in terms of something that’s non sports-related that adds some balance to your life — what do you like doing the most?

Ross: The reality is the time I get, I try to spend as much with my family. They’re so supportive, my wife and my son. We’ve got such a great family. My brother is in town. My in-laws. There’s always people at our house. It’s just a great time to come home. It’s rarely just my wife and son. We have friends over all the time.

It’s like when you were a kid and there was always one house we’d always go to. Well, we’re the house. I think that’s really fun. We’ll have barbecues. We just like to entertain and have people over. That’s probably it. I just love to be around people that I care about and have a good time. That’s my main thing when I’m not working, which seems like I’m working all the time.

Noe: How long have you and your wife been together?

Ross: We met at the radio station, which is another reason I’m thankful for all of the things that transpired. Staying at the station that long, I met her several years into being at the station. She was an account executive so we met there and struck up a friendship. It grew from that.

She since is no longer in radio, but she did it for a long, long time. She was really good at sales. So many friends, so many memories, my wife came from radio. It all feels like it was just meant to be.

Noe: Have there been other offers that you simply turned down for all the reasons you just mentioned?

Ross: No, nothing officially. There have been a couple of NBA things that I’ve applied for. I literally remember talking to my wife thinking, “Man, if I get offered this, I think I would say no. But how could I say no to one of 30?”

Now, it didn’t happen. I’ll give you an example; Cleveland was open years ago. I think it was Joe Tait who was their longtime broadcaster. I saw that was an opening and I said, “I don’t know if I want to go to Cleveland, but I have to apply. It’s one of 30 jobs.”

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I applied and nothing came of it, but I remember thinking, “Well, I feel like I’m qualified. I’ve done NBA games. What would I say if it really came down to we want to hire you?” I was really thinking, “Am I going to say no?”.

It didn’t get that far because again I’m happy here. I like it here. Maybe sometime that position will open up for me in Sacramento officially. It would have been hard to leave and it would have been hard to say no. I guess the short answer is I’m glad I wasn’t officially put in that spot to have to decide.

Noe: If you could essentially write out how you’d like the rest of your career to unfold, what would that look like for you?

Ross: I would like to do as much play-by-play as I can. I get that opportunity now, but I thirst for more of it. I’ve been lucky to be behind — and I know you know Grant Napear, Gerry Gerould is the radio guy, Grant is the TV guy — I don’t know if I’m technically behind Grant. Gary, I’ve worked so hand in hand with him for so many years. I’ve had the privilege to fill in for him. He is just a legend. He’s amazing. He is still killing it out there and he’s 78.

Whenever his time is done — he needs to write his own script — but whenever he decides he’s finished, I would love, love, love that opportunity to be the radio voice of the Kings. To go with that, to keep doing Sac State football because I’ve done that for 20+ years. If that opened up even more opportunities to do some national play-by-play, I really love radio. If TV came up I wouldn’t say no as far as play-by-play. Everything seems to be leaning towards that.

I enjoy doing the talk shows, but it’s almost like the thing I’m chasing has been play-by-play. If more things open talk show wise, certainly I would do it. I have a show now. I’m thrilled with it.

The PD job was something that became available and I thought, I’m going to grow from this. I wanted to take on that opportunity. I really have learned a lot more about myself and just managing people, and making mistakes, and making right calls, all those kind of things. I’ve enjoyed that, but I guess the thing I’m in a constant chase for is finding more play-by-play.

Noe: I hope that works out for you.

Ross: I hope so too. It’s really tricky because Gary is a friend. He’s awesome, but I know if it was my job, I’d be like, “I’m going until I’m done.” He should. He’s done it for 30-something years and he’s still great. He’s amazing.

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Noe: If he was like, “What do you think, man? Do you think I should keep going?” It’d be hard to avoid saying, “No man, you should totally retire.”

Ross: (laughs) Yeah, because my friends always ask me when’s he going to stop? I’m like, “You know, I don’t know.” That’s his call. I root for him. Again, he’s a friend. He’s a mentor. He’s just awesome. I’ve been patient and I hope it would be my position after that, but nothing is ever guaranteed. I would feel really good about my chances though.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

Derek Futterman

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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