Dane Brugler is an NFL Draft Analyst for The Athletic. “When scouting 300-pound defensive linemen, some show explosiveness in their lower body while others explode with their upper body,” Brugler once wrote. “The rare ones do both.” The observation made me think of sports radio. Some hosts make you laugh. Other hosts make you think. The rare ones do both consistently.
Alfred Williams is one of the rare hybrid hosts in sports radio. He can make you think with his wide-ranging opinions on sports, politics, and beyond. The former Denver Broncos two-time Super Bowl champion can absolutely crack you up as well. I went out to dinner with Alfred and his former co-host Darren “DMac” McKee roughly two years ago. Alfred’s laugh is infectious. It’s a laugh that not only lights up the room or building, it lights up the entire block of your general location.
A sports radio veteran of more than 16 years, the Colorado Buffaloes product now has a new gig alongside JoJo Turnbeaugh on KOA NewsRadio 850 AM & 94.1 FM in Denver. Alfred talks about the transition from his decade-long partner DMac to his current role on Big Al & JoJo. The Houston native also talks about his past experience with Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy and the best advice he’s received throughout his radio career. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: You were off the air for six months during the transition from The Fan to KOA. What was that time like for you?
Alfred Williams: It was absolutely bittersweet. It really was. I kind of wanted a break. I needed a break. I had been going for about 15 years in a row. To have a little break was good, but my mom was dying. I got to spend that time with her. She ended up dying in July. I started back in September last year. It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it was going to be because my mom passed away, but it was a good break. It was needed.
BN: Has getting back to work helped you get your mind off things a little bit?
AW: It helped me with my grieving process. I’m thankful I have a good partner because he kind of talked me through it. He lost his father and he could kind of walk me through some of my internal rifts. When I’m talking, it just builds up frustration and anger — a lot of questioning why. You learn to hate things like the word cancer. All of the emotions, they come in waves. You just never get used to it. You just never get used to not being able to hear her voice.
BN: What has it been like for you to transition from DMac to your new partner JoJo?
AW: It’s been actually great. I still talk to DMac maybe once a week or so. But I love working with JoJo. He was the guy that I picked to work with. He was the number one guy. I had heard JoJo on 102.3 ESPN years ago and I liked the way that he handled the gravity of the show. I was a fan of it. He was not doing radio. For about six or seven years he was in management. They kept asking me who do I want and I just said give me JoJo because I just liked his vibe. That was an obvious choice for me.
BN: What was his reaction when he found out that you wanted him to be your partner?
AW: He was like no way. [Laughs] They told me I could pick anybody in the city that’s not under contract, or anybody in any one of our stations in Denver, or nationally if we wanted to go pick somebody up. We could get it done and try to make a go of it. I had JoJo in mind and he was like oh you got to be kidding me. You’re kidding me. I was like nah man. I heard him and he’s just got this great laugh. He’s got this fantastic laugh and his demeanor is in line with mine. It’s a good mix for me.
BN: You’ve got a great laugh yourself, man. When you guys start laughing together they probably hear you in Nebraska.
AW: [Laughs] I’m telling you, man. I’m telling you. I’m not going to lie; I’ve had moments on the show when I was in tears. We’ve had plenty of moments when we’ve laughed and it’s just been — man, what a roller coaster of a year for people who are in this business. Not everybody can handle all the things that are going on right now or they choose not to touch on it because maybe that’s not their format or maybe it’s not their expertise and they just ignore it. I’m so happy that I’m able to talk about the things that make us laugh, that make us cry, that make us think twice about situations.
BN: Have you been doing the show remotely at all during the pandemic?
AW: We started off and I think we did like 16 shows, but because we’re a news station we had essential workers permits. That gave me the opportunity to travel back and forth to the studio.
We were together when it was the beginning of coronavirus. We went to the Super Bowl together and then we went to the country music radio awards. Since we were together at the Super Bowl and 10 days later we were together, we were just like hey man, we’ll just do the show from the studio. We’ll put our masks on and go in and just do it from the studio. It’s not the same energy when you can’t see the person or talk in the breaks. All radio people understand it’s just smoother when you’re in person.
BN: How did you initially get into sports radio?
AW: When I was a player we had a one-hour show when The Fan first started up. I was playing for the Broncos. They wanted to do a one-hour show and I was okay with it so we just did that one-hour show. After football was over, Tim Spence, who was my boss who hired me, asked me to come do radio. At the time I had a technology company that was growing. I told him I couldn’t do it. That went on for four years. Then I came back and said okay I’m ready to do sports radio. He was like you’re not serious. [Laughs]
So I had this two-hour show with Scott Hastings. We had a blast, bro. We had a blast. Every day was silly and funny and we talked about sports and life and locker rooms. It was great. Then they wanted to move me and Scotty in the drive-time position, but Scotty was gone with the Nuggets. They put me with this shock jock DMac.
I’ll never forget, man, I got married on May 23rd. It was Memorial Day weekend. I got married on Saturday. I go in on Monday. I was 40 years old and I’ll never forget what my partner said to me. He said why did you get married? They’re going to make another 25-year-old next year.
At that moment I wanted to kick his ass all over that studio. I told them there was no way I was going to work with this guy. I told them no way. He started to court me, bringing BBQ and sandwiches, and just making sure everything was smooth. Eventually we worked it out and it was a good really run, man. We had a 10-year run. I worked with Scotty for five years, and then DMac for 10, and now JoJo for a year.
BN: Was it hard to move away from The Fan and DMac after you’d been working together for a decade?
AW: Yes, it was really tough because I was comfortable and familiar with everybody. When you change radio stations or you change jobs the grass looks greener on the other side. I had overtures, I’ve had at least three or four overtures in the past but this one felt like it was right because it was also the home of the Broncos, the home of the Rockies, and we can talk about anything. Not just sports, but anything that is hot and topical, whether it’s finances, weather, politics, or COVID-19.
BN: What would you say is the general vibe of doing a show in the Denver market?
AW: I’m going to be totally honest with you, man, it’s really uplifting. I am on a station that was a Republican station and still leans hard to the Republican side. We were the home of Rush Limbaugh for 25 years or more, so my audience wasn’t necessarily aligned with me politically, but what I found is there can be a middle ground. Conversations can be had and we can agree to disagree without being nasty, which is always preferable.
When you start talking about things that affect somebody and their political party’s ideas and you’re not on the same page, trust me it can be three or four hours of rough conversation. It’s okay that you have them as long as you can say okay I can understand your point. You can get to a middle ground. Maybe you won’t always agree but we can agree to be gentlemen with each other.
BN: What do you think is your biggest strength as a sports radio host?
AW: My biggest strength is I tell the truth. The truth is painful most of the time in sports. Especially if you’re from the home of the team that you’re covering. Maybe this is because I played for the team and I’m good friends with most of the guys that are over there with the Broncos in particular or with my CU Buffs, they know I’m coming from a good place.
If I say that they didn’t play a good game because of coaching or players, and I can say that’s not going to cut it, it’s not what we need to win, most of the time it’s a hard lesson if you are over in that building and you’re coaching one of the teams that I’m talking about. There have been some coaches in the past that didn’t appreciate it. I tell them to pound sand because I know what I’m looking at.
The problem with football is that it’s really complicated and it takes time to explain why somebody is good or why somebody is bad. You just have to keep telling people every day that this is why they are good, this is why they aren’t good. You have to do that every single day if you’re not on the popular side. I remember the conversations I was having about Tim Tebow. I was saying he’s not a good quarterback. You can’t even imagine how popular Tim Tebow was. After they won that game against the Steelers I was like, well this was the best win of his life. John is not going to have him back here as quarterback.
Sure enough I got, oh man, you’re talking about vitriol. You’re talking about people who just did not understand what I was saying and they just wanted Tim Tebow for other reasons. It had nothing to do with football. I think it was because of his religious beliefs that people we’re clinging to him. But as a broadcaster you just have to tell people what’s going on. If he’s making a good play or making a bad play you’ve got to be able to explain why he is good or why he is not.
BN: What type of feedback have you gotten after the story resurfaced of Mike Gundy calling you the N-word [in a game back in 1989]?
AW: You know it was weird. The best part about Twitter is that you get a national and international field. I’m not just talking to people in Colorado. I had some people who started following me and say “Way to jump on the bandwagon now, Alfred, after 30 years you’re bringing this up.”
They don’t know the context. They don’t know that I brought it up 30 years ago. I just learned not to argue with people that don’t leave their name. If you’re bold enough to leave your name and you can be found easily, then I’ll respond to you. But if you won’t leave your name, then I think it’s just not a good deal for me to even respond to you.
I was really pissed off that people looked at it like I was piling on. Shannon Sharpe called me about this incident at Oklahoma State 31 years ago. He said he got a phone call from somebody from Oklahoma State that said that Gundy was not a gentleman with me. I said you got that right. I told him what happened. He went on TV the next day and he started the conversation about Mike Gundy and what happened. I’ve been doing radio a long time. If I wanted to bring that up I would have brought that up years ago.
I didn’t bring it up because I brought it up 31 years ago and nothing happened, what would make me think that bringing it up today would make anything else happen? He hasn’t apologized yet so I guess he’s not going to apologize.
BN: Did that sort of thing happen a lot on the football field to you?
AW: First and only time. In all of my football career — high school, college — it happened once with him. In the pros, never once.
BN: Have you experienced any racism as a sports radio host?
AW: No, and that’s one of the reasons that I say it’s been uplifting. It’s different when you text in because when you text in your phone number is there, right? You can actually pick the phone up and call the person who texted you if they say something nasty. If they’re bold enough to call, then maybe they have something that they want to get off their heart.
Maybe I haven’t thought of a perspective that was different. I love people to call in. We read the text messages whether they’re good or bad. We read them because I think the audience is judge and jury when it comes to what should be talked about and what shouldn’t be talked about. I don’t back down and I don’t back away from it. We’re just talking. Let’s talk it out.
BN: What’s an area that you would like to be better in as a host?
AW: I’d like to be a better driver. I’ve driven well over 300 shows but I’d like to be a better driver. Every show has a feel and the driver is the person that gives that show that feel. I was told by Tim Spence years ago that I could be the John Madden of the show and look at it like this guy opens up and I give the perspective. I thought that was a great way to describe how impactful not driving can be. John Madden never drove and he worked with a lot of different guys over the years. He was a professional broadcaster. I kind of look at it like that. I just want to be the John Madden of my show, but I’d like to be able to have the skill set to set us back to the original sound when the co-host isn’t there.
BN: What’s some other advice you’ve gotten that has made a big difference for you as a broadcaster?
AW: This is the best advice I’ve ever gotten and it came from Tim Spence. This was at a time when I was doing TV and doing radio. He said either you’re a radioman or you’re not. At that time it was such a strong statement that I just stopped doing all the color analyst stuff and just stuck with doing radio. It’s made my life. I can have a sharper focus and it’s made my life more compartmentalized so I can just put things in the right place. I’m a radioman.
BN: I like it. That could be your nickname — Alfred “The Radioman” Williams.
AW: [Laughs] You know what? All people who are in radio that do this get pumped up every day so that they can have a good time to talk with their audience, and greet them, and bring some interesting points. The people who are not excited about having their show every day, man they’ve got to get the hell out of radio.
BN: Is there anything that you would like to do before your broadcasting career is over?
AW: No, I just want to talk to the people in Colorado and thank them every single day for giving me a chance. Every day I want to thank them for giving me a chance to be me. I want to thank them every day and tell them how proud I am to call myself a Coloradan.
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.