words: Don Lowe
Images: courtesy The Morning Rush
It’s six o’clock on a Monday morning, and The Morning Rush Sports Talk Radio Show is just getting started. The three hosts: Tommy Craft, Derek Ruscin and former Razorback quarterback Tyler Wilson are talking about anything and everything involving University of Arkansas athletics, including football, basketball, baseball and a whole lot more.
Tommy and Derek, both of whom developed an interest in broadcasting when they were young boys, have been co-hosting The Morning Rush Sports Talk Radio Show for nearly a decade. The show airs from Fort Smith on weekday mornings from six to nine on stations across Arkansas, including 95.3 in Fort Smith and 99.5FM/1290AM in northwest Arkansas, as well as online at espnarkansas.net.
Tyler joined Tommy and Derek about a year ago to make it a trio. And Tommy believes that Tyler’s expertise as a former standout UA athlete has only served to enhance the dynamics.
Tommy and Derek, along with Tyler, appreciate being in this line of work. What Derek enjoys most is the conversations and getting a bunch of different opinions and perspectives on different topics, centered mostly on UA sports.
Tommy kiddingly says that he gets his greatest pleasure in being right. He quickly adds that unfortunately being right all the time is not reality. He goes on to say that the fun part is having a strong opinion on a topic, such as who should be Arkansas’ starting quarterback, backed up with facts, and then making your point, especially when your co-host says you’re an idiot.
While this terrific threesome of fast talkers does have a lot of fun bantering throughout their mornings together, there are some tougher aspects to it and Derek says it’s not necessarily easy handling controversy, such as whether a particular coach should be fired.
Tommy elaborates further in saying that challenging aspects for him are trying to read everything you feel you have to read these days to stay on top of things, especially as it relates to the Razorbacks, and not let people’s opinions become your opinion.
“In today’s social media world there are so many articles, opinion columns, blogs, feeds, etc., and you want to read all of them so you don’t miss anything,” Tommy says. “But, you also want to have your own opinion on the matter and being on at six a.m. every day gives us the chance to have the first take on a lot of things that happen at night and over the weekends.”
The passion of a statewide fan base that’s so rabid about their Razorbacks is a plus and Tommy explains that the unique characteristic about having a sports talk show like this in Arkansas is that there is no real divide, meaning The Morning Rush doesn’t have to split its time with multiple schools, or a professional team. So they’re able to discuss nearly every facet of the program.
Derek says that because Arkansas fans are so incredibly passionate he does enjoy getting into the office after a big win or a controversial loss that everyone is talking about.
Interestingly, Derek says that a successful show doesn’t hinge on the Razorbacks doing extraordinarily well, and the show is easier when the team is struggling because everyone has a solution on how to fix it.
“We love when the Hogs win, too, because at the end of the day we are fans as well and want to see success,” Derek adds. “For the show, though, just because the team isn’t winning all the time doesn’t mean the show isn’t as good.”
Tommy’s sentiments are much the same as Derek’s and he explains that if the team (Razorbacks) is 11-1, everyone’s opinion is the same, ‘this team is great’. That’s pretty boring talk radio if everyone agrees.
But, Tommy continues, if a team is 6-6, everyone has a different perspective as to why it played out this way, what it will take to fix it, which coach needs to be fired, why the quarterback is good or no good, and on and on. When Arkansas’ football team started out 1-3 last fall, Tommy, Derek and Tyler had plenty of callers sharing their ideas on how to ‘fix’ things.
An analogy Tommy shares for comparison is to imagine the break room at a company and the conversations that go on in there. Figuratively speaking, how many times do people gather around to praise the boss and talk about how wonderful company policies are? Tommy answers his hypothetical question saying it never happens.
Conversely, in his break room scene he suspects that if just one person starts complaining about the most trivial detail, everyone starts joining in on it because that’s human nature. “We are all more drawn to conversation where people are offering a variety of opinions and not all of them are going to be positive,” Tommy says.
Regardless of whether the chatter is positive or negative, Derek believes that keys to a successful sports talk radio show are to have hosts with opinions and an understanding that you have to have calls, but they don’t need to drive every segment.
He also advises that you have to know your audience and know what they want to hear about. That may not be what you most want to talk about that particular day. He adds that, “You have to have thought-provoking topics, not just talk about the news of the day, and there is a difference.”
Tommy contends that the key to success is promoting relevant content, particularly UA sports such as football and men’s and women’s basketball. He also insists that having an identity, as a show, is a big deal. “By that I mean it shouldn’t take a listener a month to figure out what your show is all about,” he says. “So, be consistent with what you do and what the listeners expect.”
Tommy is adamant that in our state especially, “If it’s the Razorbacks, be all over it, make sure your audience knows that if they invest their drive to work with you, or an hour at their desk with you, they will know what is going on with their team and be educated fans.”
While the listeners and frenetic Razorback faithful are a charged-up bunch, this talkative trio brings excitement, energy and enthusiasm as well. Tommy keeps coming back day after day because it’s fun and no two shows are alike. Every day something different happens. Some days it’s not a big deal, but every now and then you are there when major news happens, like a coach resigning or being fired, and you get to moderate the conversation with fans. That is an awesome responsibility.
Derek admits he’s addicted to the conversations. He also likes the idea that topics will come up that The Morning Rush team doesn’t have all the answers to and they get to talk about it live on the air. “I like that it’s not scripted and that it’s flawed and not always going to be perfect.” He finds it particularly refreshing the way people in the audience connect with radio shows differently than any other form of media.
And with that, let the talking begin.