Thursday, February 4, 2010

'Sports Xtra' Not Your Daddy's Sports Radio

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 1:05 PM

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From sports blogger and Scene contributor Martin Brady: Youth must be served. Even in the establishment world of sports talk radio, where mostly middle-aged guys dominate the airwaves. So when Sports Xtra debuted on Jan. 11 on WNSR SportsRadio 560-AM, it was only a little surprising that the show's team of twentysomething hosts, Jeff Thurn (pronounced "tern") and Henry Nichols, would lay a slightly alternative rap on Nashville listeners. Thurn, marketing and sports director at WNSR, met Nichols, a local sportswriter and Titans correspondent for CBS Sports.com, in the press box at a Titans game this past fall. An instant offbeat connection and a shared love of radio conspired to bring them together. Now they're serving up a smart-alecky brand of programming that just might breathe fresh air into the local sports media scene. "I was in the works for the 6-9 p.m. weekday slot, and I was looking for a co-host," says Thurn, a transplanted Minnesotan who arrived in Nashville in 2008. "Certainly, Henry is unique. You don't get his perspective on many stations and you rarely get it on sports. My national sports knowledge is pretty good, but Henry was able to bring a strong local perspective." Initially a WNSR part-timer behind-the-scenes, Thurn at one point had worked himself into the on-air rotation with a two-hour Saturday afternoon show. Now he's on five nights a week and daring to suggest that Tiger Woods should embrace his inner player and bag the sex-addiction clinic. You won't hear George Plaster say that. "We're not gonna cross that line where we're offensive to people," says Thurn, "but guys our age, that's how we feel. We want to be honest with our listeners. We don't want to be a bunch of BS'ers." Even the Sports Xtra musical interludes convey a younger vibe, with hip-hop tracks and contemporary Britpop reflecting its hosts' tastes. "This was serendipitous for me," says Nichols," a 2007 Belmont University grad. "I want this to be the start of a youth movement, in terms of media in town. Not to slight any of the venerated guys like Joe Biddle or Bill King or Thom Abraham, but there needs to be an infusion of younger voices. There needs to be that strain of younger people who aren't afraid to be opinionated and can back it up as well." Thurn and Nichols got a huge boost their second night on the air when it was announced that Lane Kiffin had left his head football post at UT-Knoxville. They were the only radio show on air locally offering a podium to irate fans. "We had a Channel 2 News crew up here," says Thurn. "Two days into the show and we got some good publicity. I'm a big Lane Kiffin fan now." "We both think Lane Kiffin made the right choice," says Nichols. "I don't think he handled it perfectly, but he made the natural logical choice, and I think the UT fan base acted like a bunch of babies." The Thurn-Nichols on-air partnership is a bit of a DIY thing for now, with both hosts responsible for expanding the gig's sponsorship base. "We're in the process of hiring a sales staff," says Thurn with confidence. "We'll be on a year at least, no problem." Hey, that's longer than Conan got.

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