An image of Craig Larson wearing a headset.

Weekly Newsletter
Issue #292

The Great Uniter

Craig Larson is a 30-year veteran of the broadcasting industry and sports radio. He’s been a dedicated mentor to over 200 students in his 15 years at Radio Connection. I sat down to chat with Craig about his career, sports journalism, the future of radio, and the program.

Tell us about SportsMap Radio.

SportsMap Radio is a recent rebrand for our national 24/7 network. Our network started in the mid 90s in Northbrook Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. I began as a producer and have subsequently relocated twice with that network—once, to Los Angeles and now for the last 13 years, I’ve been here in Houston with our ownership group Gow Media. We’ve had a few different geographical locations and a few different brands. There were moments when we were Sporting News, moments when we were the Yahoo! Sports Network. The last few years we’ve been SportsMap. Long legacy, for decades now.

Why do you think sports radio has remained so successful, while other radio models have failed?

I think sports, by and large, is the great uniter. It’s celebratory in nature. People are always buzzing about it and reacting to it. There are always amazing story lines in and around it. The cast of characters change, and new coaches and new players and new schemes come to the forefront. At the core is fandom. At the end of the day, we all have a university we went to or we have a childhood team or played athletically or wish we’d played athletically. [Maybe] we’re just enamored by a [specific] program.

“I think sports, by and large, is the great uniter.”

Will sports radio have to reinvent itself anytime soon, or is it a solid model, as is?

I think it’s an enduring model. Along the way, in my 30-year progression, I can recall “the end of sports radio will be when they put it on Sirius Satellite XM.” Turns out that was just an additional enhancement. A decade ago, when sports talk radio started migrating to the FM dial, “oh that’s going to be the end of sports radio on AM.” Nope! [Sports is] entrenched in the fabric of our culture and society…. there will always be an audience.

Did you start in sports radio?

The original college radio station, WCRX 88.1 FM in Chicago, that I worked at, was branded as “techno pop…” that wasn’t really my area of expertise. [I’ve always been] an avid sports enthusiast. I think growing up in the 80s in the southside of Chicago [was formative]. The White Sox won the Pennant, the subsequent year The Cubs won the Pennant. The Bears won the Superbowl. Mixed in there, DePaul basketball was ranked in the top five. Of course, Michael Jordan. [Throw that all together and] I think it’s impossible to grow up in Chicago and not [love sports]. It’s sports city.

Did you move to Houston for your company, or were you also attracted to it as a city?

A combination of the two. My first impression of Houston was how inviting and welcoming everyone was! [Especially] from the professional franchisees… the access they gave us [was incredible]. I loved that. The biggest selling point is our ownership group, especially our CEO and owner David Gow. He had a real, defined, and distinct vision of how he wanted to create a multimedia company. I would say 90% buying into David’s vision and 10% Houston as [a market and place to live].

Craig Larson between two other people.

Do you guys have content platforms other than traditional radio?

Absolutely, we have an entire podcast division. We also have a variety of other content vertices. We have a SportsMap Houston site that has a lot of short form videos. We produce dozens of videos a day for the local Houstonian along with written articles. We also own and operate a lifestyle site called CultureMap. It’s exciting. I mean, my office is adjacent to a food editor. If you’d told me I’d be 300 feet from a food editor, I would have said, ‘what’s going on here?’ Everything centers around content creation and audience engagement.

Do you have a specific team, organization, or contest that you particularly like to cover?

I think over time, what’s happened with me specifically, is that I just root for the storylines. Sometimes [I’ll] root for an organization because of [my] access [to their coaches and players]. Sometimes you’re just rooting for an organization because you’ve gotten to know their ownership group or media relations department. I can tell you; I am excited, this is the third time since living in Houston that the Final Four will be coming back to Houston. We’re hopeful that the University of Houston will be playing in the Final Four, right in our own backyard.

How long have you been with Radio Connection?

I believe we have just recently eclipsed 15 years together. I think my first student was in the 2007-2008 rage, when we were based in Santa Monica.

How many students have you had?

Easily over 200. I’m not sure if we’re at the 250 mark.

How do you select your students?

[I get] to know them in the pre-interview—making sure there’s a reason or rationale for what they’re hoping to achieve. It’s pretty easy to find the passionate individuals, the person who’s going to be a self-starter. The individuals who have a real gameplan, but [need] the instruction and know-how. Those are the individuals who are really easy to identify and start the process with. They energize me. I learn as much from them as they do from me. It’s a nice collaboration.

I know you have a lot of remote students; do you prefer remote or in-person?

Believe it or not, the remote [route works great for our business]. You know, I have a morning host on our network that I’ve never met face-to-face—and he’s been on our airwaves for several years. He has a remote studio in Nashville. The remote nature of [radio] is lined up favorably with the remote aspect of a lot of the mentoring I do with the students. The different backgrounds and interests [that come with a geographically diverse student population, provides a diversity in perspectives]. I have a student right now that lives in Nova Scotia—that’s pretty cool!

Craig Larson standing behind the World Series championship trophy.

Any words for potential students considering Radio Connection?

I wish the program was around when I was pursuing a radio degree. I took so many classes that had nothing to do with my core interest. To receive a Bachelor of Arts took a lot of time a lot of finances. You know, taking a history of art class was fine as an elective, but I just wanted to do radio. I just wanted to know how I could earn a paycheck in the broadcasting field. The idea that you can enroll in a program, work your butt off, get inherently better, and upon completion walk with a certification, a final demo, [connections within the industry], and access to career placement is an amazing real prospect and possibility.

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