ESPN Sports talk radio professional Drew Deener has run an extraordinary path and made his own way in the broadcast business. He took a time out to talk with Rocko Jerome all about how he’s made his passion into a vocation.
Drew Deener's destiny was apparent even in childhood. "When I was a kid, I used to constantly talk back at the TV during pretty much any sporting event," he says, "My parents spotted it then, they already knew this would be the thing for me."
A bonafide sports fanatic from his earliest memories, Drew has maintained the focus on his passion with an uncompromising spirit and sharp intellect throughout all of his life.
After graduating from St.Xavier High School, he studied at Transylvania University, jumping at every sports related internship that he could along the way. In 1995, just 10 days after graduation, he took on a position covering sports at WYMT TV in Hazard County, Kentucky. He enjoyed being on the air, but he found the format limiting. "Sports on local news, it's just a couple of minutes at the end of the broadcast," Drew observed, "You probably aren't telling anyone anything that they haven't already heard. I wanted to really have the opportunity to get more in depth."
Not just a student of one game, Drew obsessively studies virtually every game. He needed more, and so he went for it, working for a number of different stations and venues, as well as teaching tennis. In 1997, he took on his first radio show hosting gig at Lexington's WLXG, with Cross and Deener on Sports. It's in the deep dive, long format forum of radio that Drew really found himself. "For one, you've got the ability to really go in depth in radio," says Drew. "It's a better place for opinions, and advancing a conversation.”
Drew's co-host was Chris Cross, a stalwart of Lexington sports radio. He introduced Drew to the concepts of handling the marketing of his own program, something he's really run with since. "I resisted doing any selling until about seven or eight years ago, but Chris was teaching me a lot at the time that I never realized until I acted on it. He got me around to understanding that you're not trying to sell your clients on something, you're offering an opportunity to help them, to magnify their own brands," Drew explained, "Once I started to look at it like that, a whole world opened up." He has a fine aptitude for it and he really gets to know his clients and their needs. "It's been good for me. Also, when you're doing that much work for the station, you're a lot harder to fire!" he quips.
After a few years in Lexington, He would find his way back home to Louisville. In 2008, he started working for Clear Channel as a host and, after a few years, also as a salesperson for Early Birds and the Cardinal Insider. Opportunity came knocking during Derby week of 2012, when, at the request of the great broadcaster Bob Valvano, Drew had a meeting with Kansas City radio station owner Chad Boeger. Mr. Boeger was looking to expand, and he had sights on creating ESPN affiliate stations right here in Louisville. Drew reflects on the early meetings, "They flew me out there and really treated me well. They sent a limo to pick me up, which was nice. Chad and I clicked. We're about the same age and see the world the same way."
It took about a year's time to finalize, but Drew became Vice President of ESPN Louisville, as well as an on-air talent for both 93.9 FM and 680 AM. For him, it feels like the perfect situation. "As an affiliate for ESPN, we're a small company, which means that we're not just a line item on someones massive spreadsheet somewhere. If you can find a piece of paper, an envelope, and a stamp all in one day at the station, you might have just made history, but we've got it where it counts. It's a tremendous crew of sports fanatics, and everyone gets along. Also, I’m off early enough to do something really important for me- I'm free to pick my son up from school. As a single dad, that counts for a whole lot."
What’s in the cards
We asked Drew for his prognosis on the state of U of L sports.
Don't worry, you might just be able to stop breathing into that brown paper bag and avoid that anxiety attack, after all... at least where basketball is concerned. "I really think they're going in the right direction with Chris Mack. They have done some really smart recruiting, and they have the right people in place to navigate these waters. There's a lot of cause for optimism."
The sea ahead for football looks decidedly more like choppy waters ahead. "U of L Football is a mess right now. It's all a matter of money if things don't turn around. We might just see the cost of losing, and the University will need to decide what's actually more expensive- doing something or doing nothing."