How a Sports Radio Show Became a Must Stop for Kentucky Politics

Oct 1, 2015

Matt Jones
Credit Tyler Franklin/Louisville Public Media

  Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones has been on a roll.

Following interviews with dueling Senate candidates Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes last year, KSR became a must-stop for candidates looking to reach a different audience.

Most recently, Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called in to talk football and Donald Trump.

For the most part, KSR is a straightforward talk radio show. It’s just Jones, 37, and his co-host Ryan Lemond chatting about UK sports in obsessive detail. Jones usually records in Louisville. Lemond in Lexington. The show, which is also produced by Shannon “the dude” Grisby, takes calls from listeners. The hosts joke around. No bells. No whistles.

Interviews with big names in state and national politics are becoming a common feature of the two-hour show. And even Jones himself is emerging as a political figure. At the moment, Jones is considering a run for Congress that would pit him against Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. A run would require him to move from Louisville to the district, which includes Lexington.

This year, Jones emceed the speeches at the state’s biggest political event, the Fancy Farm Picnic. He also hosted a Republican gubernatorial primary debate and this week KSR aired a debate of the three gubernatorial hopefuls in the November general election.

There are a couple of reasons for all of this. One is Jones himself.  He said his role as a sports host gives him the ability to approach politics from a different perspective.

“I’m able to ask things that others can’t,” he said. “I am able to sort of pull the curtain back in a way that other people won’t or feel like they can’t.”

Jones also doesn’t flinch in telling his audience where he’s coming from. He said it hasn’t hurt his ability to weigh in on issues.

“I’ve gone on air and said I lean liberal in a state that leans conservative,” Jones explained. “That I am a Democrat. And yet the Republican party asked me to host a debate.”

With this approach, Jones and the show have garnered a big following. On the air for just five years, KSR is now carried on 37 different affiliates across the Bluegrass State.

Lemond, Jones’ co-host for the past four years, said the show’s recent foray into politics has actually helped grow its audience, which is something he didn’t expect.

“It is kind of odd that as a sports show we dabble into the political realm, but it’s what affects all of us,” he said. “I think Matt is trying to bond that bridge so to speak.”

Both Jones and Lemond explained that like bourbon and horse racing— basketball is an important cultural touchstone in Kentucky, which is what draws everyone in the first place.

“You can’t talk about the success of getting these political interviews without talking about basketball,” he said.  “Basketball brings the entire state together. It’s the reason we have had success. It’s not me. It’s the fact that we tapped into something that was already there.”

Lemond said having a group of people that already care deeply about something made it easy to grow the show’s audience.

“The UK basketball audience in this state is the biggest audience in the state,” Lemond said. “It’s huge. From Pikeville to Paducah, as coach Cal likes to say. So, Matt’s theory is, why don’t we use that platform then for other issues should also be important to us.”

This experiment has panned out like no one expected.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently approached Jones and asked him to consider running for Kentucky’s Sixth congressional district seat next year.

Jones hasn’t announced a decision on that yet. For now, Jones said he’s having lot of fun talking about UK sports—and sometimes—politics.