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Op-Ed: Mitch, Please Don't Mess with My KSR Family

The following op-ed is written by Kerry Holleran, an attorney based in Bracken County and a former member of the Covington Board of Education. It is in response to the removal of Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones from his show following a complaint from the reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R). Jones is weighing a run for the Democratic nomination in next year's race against McConnell.

I know exactly where I was on March 28, 1992: I was at my grandmother’s house in Bracken County, Kentucky. I sat on her blue carpet. Beside her blue chair. I was 13. After Christian Laettner’s shot over UK senior and Mason County graduate Deron Feldhaus (who I grew up watching play in high school), I was so upset that I walked out of my grandmother’s door without saying a word and walked straight home. She wasn’t upset with me; she didn’t want to talk about it either. 

Years later, I’d read Gene Wojciechowski’s book The Last Great Game and admire Deron Feldhaus for at least not pretending he had an “out of body experience” at the time of Laettner’s shot like John Pelfrey did. Pelfrey swore he thought he stole the ball from Laettner. 

What the #$%&. 

The longest romantic relationship I’ve ever been in began at the SEC Tournament in 2010. You know, the year Blue Jesus himself, John Wall, and this guy named DeMarcus Cousins, saved us from what felt like much longer than two seasons of Billy Gillespie’s nonsense antics like telling Perry Stevenson to goal tend a free throw (which is a technical foul). 

Come to think of it, I’ve only missed two SEC tournaments since 2006. 

Last year, I took my daughter to the Champions Classic and we got the beatdown of our lives by Zion Williamson and Duke. We never lost hope in that team that went on to the Elite 8.

This year, I bought season tickets after I “won” the season ticket lottery. I’d entered before. But this year, they finally called me. I screamed. I’m not even a UK grad. I live almost two hours from Lexington.

Suffice it to say, I'm a ride or die BBN fan. 

Every day for the past six months, I’ve listened to Kentucky Sports Radio (KSR). 

I was late to the KSR party, it’s true. KSR has been on the air since 2011. Matt Jones started KSR as an inaptly named blog with no radio show. A big believer in setting your sights high, Matt knew his end game was a radio show, so he put “radio” in his blog’s title for that reason and because he says it was easier to get press credentials 14 years ago if you had “radio” in your name and not just “blog.”

I have friends who have listened to KSR every day for all eight years. Even more are five-year listeners. Not only do we adore the hosts, but the regular callers are awfully darn lovable as well.  From Herold the Caller, an octogenarian in Western Kentucky, to JT, a Kentucky State University grad, to John Short, who has been calling into radio shows since the days of Caywood Ledford, to some guy who can impersonate Mitch McConnell spectacularly, they each offer us a couple of hours a day where we feel like family.  

But the hosts truly are special. Of course, there’s Matt Jones. A Transylvania University graduate who went on to Duke Law School but hates Duke basketball, Matt turned a mere domain name into an enterprise that allows him to do what he loves and employ his best friends. Drew Franklin provides the comic relief.  Ryan Lemond is the one best friend anyone could ever have, similar to Zach Galifianakis’s character in The Hangover. Shannon The Dude is the conspiracy-theorist producer who is rude to all the callers and posts the podcast episodes wrong. Every time. Even Billy, the fill-in producer, cracked me up last week when he said comedian Jay Pharoah asked him if he really was a man because of his slicked-back hair. 

Matt dying laughing at that story made me laugh even harder. 

After only six months of listening for me, these guys feel like family. I spend two hours a day with them. They fill me in on the Kentucky sports stories I don’t have time to research on my own, we commiserate together when there’s a tough loss, and we celebrate together, like yesterday, when there’s a giant win. Number one, baby!

But also yesterday, about an hour after I tweeted “KSR is making me so happy rn” after they were talking about how amazing Tyrese Maxey played and after Ryan Lemond swore we’d remain number one and go undefeated until February (Matt promptly told him to calm down), Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and convinced iHeartRadio to ask Matt to leave the show until he decides if he’s running for Senate against McConnell. 

Matt has made it no secret that he’s considering a run. He filed a formal exploratory committee, which is something short of actually announcing a run. These are limited purpose committees where folks considering a run can raise money to do things such as conduct polls or travel around and meet voters. They can’t spend money on marketing, can't call themselves candidates, can’t use a campaign slogan, etc. 

RPK’s complaint begins with this premise: because Matt filed FEC Form 2, which is the form you file to be an actual candidate which also happens to be the form you file when you create an exploratory committee and have to report your finances, he’s automatically a candidate. This isn’t an unreasonable argument. The FEC codes exploratory committees the same way as they code official campaign committees, but according to The Atlantic, the FEC does treat them differently for disclosure purposes. I wouldn’t be shocked if the FEC treated Matt’s filing like an actual candidacy if RPK is right that Matt raised and spent more than the $5000 threshold for exploratory committees. One can legally be a candidate for FEC purposes before he/she announces any candidacy publicly. 

But then the complaint gets weirder. RPK alleges that because Matt is writing a book about McConnell while he is exploring a run, the publisher of the book, Simon & Shuster, who is paying Matt to do research for the book in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties, is contributing to his “campaign” by paying him to write the book because writing the book requires him to interview potential voters.  And they say iHeartRadio is contributing to Matt’s “campaign” by allowing him to even mention that he may run on his radio show. Corporations can’t give campaigns money, so RPK is saying these are illegal corporate contributions. 

The complaint also says that because Matt traveled around the state while writing his book, Mitch Please, but continued to do his radio show from the counties he was visiting for book research, the show consequently strayed so much from its stated purpose of offering “University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible” that the show isn't even “comparable in form” from what it was in the past. The opposition research here is lacking as any KSR listener knows the team goes on a roadshow every summer. I mean, they call it the “KSR Annual Summer Roadshow” on air. Some of you reading this right now went to see them at Barleycorns in Cold Spring just last week and Dickmann’s in Fort Wright a couple of months ago. Also, let’s all hope that this issue requires a hearing and there’s oral argument on exactly what it means to offer UK content in “the most ridiculous manner possible.” How fun will it be to hear RPK’s arguments that the things Matt, Ryan, and Drew say aren’t nearly ridiculous enough?

But wait, it gets better. RPK says that Simon & Schuster’s financing Matt’s tour to write his book “cannot be regarded as genuinely commercial in nature and, by all outward appearances, is in fact designed to influence an election.” I guess they missed the part where Matt nearly broke Simon & Schuster’s record for pre-sale books (I pre-orderd it).  No big deal, it’s not like Simon & Schuster publishes, I don’t know, STEPHEN KING, or anybody decent.

Matt does talk about Mitch Please, which of course happens to be about McConnell, but he never says he’s running a campaign, never mentions a slogan, never asks anyone to vote for him, and always cuts callers off immediately who call to talk politics.  

If you listen to KSR, you know that the only thing Matt ever talks about on the show in relation to the 2020 Senate race, which of course he hasn’t said he’s getting in, is that McConnell hired a young guy (what they call a “tracker” in the campaign industry) to follow him around every day. Drew Franklin cracked that the joke is actually on McConnell because the tracker quit working for Mitch weeks ago and is now just a KSR groupie. 

The most alluring piece of evidence RPK came up with to prove that Matt is a “candidate” is this tweet from his Twitter feed: “Time for a controversial stance for a Senate race… ‘Hanging by a Moment’ by Lifehouse is a really good song no matter what you say.”

UM, CAN WE SAY STRETCH????  Are these people serious? Next you’ll tell me we can only buy alcohol in Rupp Arena and Kroger Field if we pay ten thousand dollars a ticket?? This has to be a joke, right? That poor tracker. He had to listen to KSR all summer and write down quotes like this to bring to RPK as the best evidence of Matt saying he’s an official candidate. I can just imagine him listening to ‘Hanging by a Moment’ hoping his law school acceptance letter is in the mail when he gets home so he can move past the summer of KSR.

Remember the referee John Higgins? He officiated Kentucky’s Elite Eight loss to North Carolina in 2017. BBN didn’t like the calls he made against us. Kentucky fans made so many calls to Higgins’s roofing business and gave him so many bad online reviews that he sued everyone he could think of, including KSR, to get the big blue madness to stop. 

After yesterday’s down-ballot election results, I’m not so sure a Democrat has much of a chance in Kentucky on a state-wide ballot in the coming years unless his or her Republican opponent royally messes up (like Matt Bevin did). This might just be McConnell’s royal mess up.  His office might be about to field more calls than John Higgins’s roofing company did. 

KSR feels like family to me, and Mitch ruined that today. I’m not getting over this any time soon, and I doubt the rest of BBN does either.