If Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones ever had to be in combat, there’s one person he would like to have in his foxhole, Ryan Lemond. But if that never happens, Jones is content to have him as his sidekick on their popular show heard on 53 radio stations in Kentucky.
There’s no pretense when it comes to KSR’s loyalty to University of Kentucky sports, especially basketball and football. Jones, the show’s originator, has led the way as the daily two-hour broadcast has developed a loyal following.
While Jones is the self-proclaimed star, Lemond has emerged as what Ed McMahon was to Johnny Carson years ago on late-night television. Some may even remember the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Well, that’s Jones and Lemond.
None, however, were as loyal as Lemond.
“It’s just been crazy how this show has developed,” Lemond said. “It seems like being in the right place at the right time has worked out.”
As for Jones, not everyone may listen to his radio show, but many know his name from a TV show he did, and he emceed the Fancy Farm picnic several years ago. But it was his flirtation with politics that occasionally got him on the front page. It was politics and his fence-riding on whether to run for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat that led to him stepping away, first from his TV gig and later KSR temporarily.
It was during Jones’ absence that Lemond stepped up and served not only as the lead on the radio show, but also as a fill-in for pregame and postgame broadcasts following UK football and basketball.
“I don’t mind saying it was stressful and a worry for me while Matt was gone,” Lemond said without laughing. “I enjoy being the sidekick.”
KSR has incorporated others into its show besides Lemond. Drew Franklin is a semi-regular, and Shannon “The Dude” Grigsby – who produces the show out of a Louisville studio – has become a “personality,” too.
Lemond’s first memory of seeing Jones was not overwhelming.
“I first heard his name back in 1998 when Tubby (Smith, UK basketball coach) had just won the NCAA championship,” Lemond said. “This guy showed up at a press conference. His hair was messed up and his shirt tail was out. I thought who is this guy? He asked Tubby lots of good questions. He said he was starting a website and blog. I thought, ‘Good luck with that.’ ”
Soon after, Jones started a podcast.
“I’d never heard of a podcast,” Lemond said. “But wouldn’t you know it, on his first one he had Jay Bilas, (basketball recruit) Brandan Wright and me.”
Jones and Lemond have been magic since 2011, entertaining a range of listeners – some who come across as barely being able to spell UK, while others are knowledgable, especially about sports. For the most part, the calls are a bashing-fest aimed at the University of Louisville and Tennessee.
“Its entertainment. It’s a radio show,” Lemond said. “I for sure don’t take myself seriously. I sometime say things that might be over the top, and I occasionally do some crazy things for the good of the show.”
A few of those crazy things have only added to Lemond’s status. KSR often takes its show on the road, visiting rural Kentucky from one end to the other, and it’s Lemond who usually doesn’t disappoint. His “take a knee pep talks” have become a staple on the show. They also found their way into the White House briefing room and did a show in almost a whisper.
Jones has a knack for getting Lemond to do just about anything legally. And Lemond “will take one for the show.”
Some of those hits have led show listeners to label him on social media as a goofball, Jones’ lap dog and an idiot. But he is none of those. His years as a professional broadcaster give him the ability to be what he wants to be.
“I’m not forced to do anything,” he said with a laugh. “I keep it all in perspective of what our show is. We’re entertaining people and they seem to like it.”
Jones and Lemond are opposites with a contrast that plays well with their audience. While Jones comes across as the well-educated Duke law school graduate that he is, Lemond brings a street-smart, common-man approach. Jones chooses his words more carefully, while Lemond often speaks without a filter, causing the producer to be on alert to hit the “dump button.”
Lemond has availed himself to several of Jones’ suggestions.
“One happened when we were in Harlan,” he said. “They wanted me to give everybody a hug when they came out of the courthouse. I found out later everybody I hugged had just appeared before the judge. It was different.”
Lemond also did a hair transplant treatment on the show. But perhaps the topper to it all was the live, on-the-air colonoscopy.
“It was to raise awareness that people should have this done,” he said. “I was actually on the air while still half knocked out. I’m not sure what I said or did.”
Last May, the show received a lot of publicity when Lemond was coaxed into putting a golf ball for charity. Five putts and money for every one he hit. For every miss, he spent a night in a fabricated jail at the KSBar and Grille in downtown Lexington. He spent five nights there.
Lemond grew up in Otwell, Ind., a town of 434, an hour from Evansville. He played baseball, tennis, track and basketball for his head coach dad and was good enough to earn a baseball scholarship to Kentucky Wesleyan in 1985, where he played outfield and set records for stolen bases and runs scored.
After college, he set out on a career journey that ultimately took him in 1996 to Lexington, where he spent 12 years in the WLEX 18 TV sports department.
“Are you kidding me,” he excitedly recalled. “I had spent six years covering Little League games and here I was in Lexington covering a team that won the NCAA three months after I moved here. Tim Couch (football) and Tubby. Wow!”
As much as Lemond loved his job, he had a family to think about, a wife and three sons.
“I was getting burned out,” he said. “And it all came to a head one night when my 9-year-old-son said, ‘Dad are you going to miss my game again tomorrow night?’ ”
That’s when he decided to become a full-time real-estate agent, and the radio and TV work would be part time. “I wear my radio hat in the morning and my Realtor hat the rest of the day,” he said.
While Jones was away from the show for more than a month, partly because of politics and partly to complete a book he was writing, Lemond filled in and will never forget his first postgame show subbing for Jones.
“It was after our loss to Tennessee,” he moaned. “I also had the basketball loss to Evansville. Not good. I was wishing Matt was there instead of me, but I was digging in till he got back.”
Lemond describes his buddy Franklin as a good writer who does a blog as a hobby. “He caught Matt’s eye for that and has a great tongue-in-cheek approach to things.”
Grigsby, Lemond says, “is an employee of I Heart Radio and actually works for five different stations.” Grigsby also dabbles in promoting professional wrestling while actually participating at times. He also claims to be able to recite every line in “Forrest Gump” ... blindfolded.
KSR has also brought notoriety to some callers. John Short has been there for years, always predicting a Kentucky win “by 50 biggens,” even if it is soccer.
There are others like Fake Barney, Chester, Eugene, fake Ralph Hacker and Kentucky Joe. “They have a following that listeners get a kick out of,” Lemond said.
Lemond seems amazed at the show’s success. There are, however, some who express their displeasure with KSR by not talking enough about UK sports. But most listeners enjoy the sometimes silliness and nonsense. Although their show is focused on UK, they are not afraid to call the school’s leaders out when they think it is necessary. They have expressed their displeasure with lack of promotions in reaching fans not showing up for earlier football and now basketball.
“We’re able to connect with so many people, not just in Kentucky, but throughout the country,” he said. “Heck, we even get calls from fans in other countries.”
Lemond enjoys his role. He’s glad Jones is back on the show offering a voice of reason, while he is content providing a sometimes voice of craziness.
There’s no excuse, get up, get out and get going!
– Gary P. West’s column runs monthly in the Daily News. He can be reached at westgary email@example.com.