How to get into sports talk radio – without any experience

A broadcaster who’s been doing small market news and sports for several years wants to move into sports talk radio. He wonders, though, if he can get a sports talk job without prior experience.

The answer is yes. All sports talk hosts lack experience at some point. The transition, though, is going to take time.

After spending the first three years of my career in McPherson, KS doing news and play-by-play, I went to work at the sports station in San Diego. I started as a sports update anchor, quickly earned regular sports talk hosting opportunities and ended-up hosting four years on ESPN Radio Network.

Folks wanting to get into sports talk hosting have two options.

1. Get in off-air

If you lack broadcasting experience, the way to get into sports radio is off-air. Board-opping and producing are the most common entry-level positions. The board-op is the guy who turns the hosts’ mikes on and off, plays commercials and answers phones. Producers help plan shows and schedule guests.

Once you’re in, the sky is the limit. Your upward mobility is going to be based upon your effort and your desire to learn and be helpful. You can go from board op, to producer to sports update anchor and reporter, to weekend host to fill-in host and then maybe your own show.

2. Start in other on-air roles

If you already have broadcasting experience – you simply lack reps in sports talk – the curve is shorter because you’re entry level is higher. With broadcasting experience, you can enter a sports radio station as an update anchor and/or reporter. Again, you work your way up to larger roles.

The path can be long. If you stick with it, though, it will take you where you want to go.


  1. Jay Sutton

    Hi Jon, me again! Great article. I recently got an internship with ESPN Radio here in Panama City, Fl. They told me that I would be learning the operating board. They also informed me that they will be starting an afternoon show soon and that I could potentially be the board op for that show. In doing a little research I became discouraged, thinking that wherever you start is where you will finish. Meaning that if you want to be on air then you don’t start behind the camera or the operating board. This article and others have shown me that isn’t true! This has made me a lot more optimistic about my internship and what it can lead to! Also, should I cut my beard? LOL. I know it seems like a weird question but when I first met with them my beard was thick, very thick. It didn’t seem to bother anything but I’m thinking that I should cut it before I start.

  2. Jon Chelesnik

    Glad to answer questions you might have. Just post ’em here!

  3. Dan

    Hi Jon,

    Great article. With many opportunities out there to promote and host your own sports talk show online is this another avenue that can be used to break in and get more reps, or will it not matter that much when it comes to bigger markets?

    • Jon Chelesnik

      Hi Dan,

      Online reps can matter a TON. Mark Chernoff is one of the legendary programmers in the history of sports talk radio. He’s been VP of CBS Sports Radio and PD of WFAN-AM/FM in NYC. He’s given opportunities to hosts he’s heard on podcasts. The number one thing Mark listens for is passion.

      If you are entertaining, major markets will consider you, regardless of the platform on which you are currently broadcasting.

  4. Adam McCloskey

    My path looked like:
    Board Op for national events.
    Board Op for Local High School games.
    Studio host and board op for local high school games.
    Fill-in local host.
    Side Kick/News guy
    Morning Host
    Program Director
    It was about a 3-year journey to get to “side kick” then the rest happened kinda quickly.

    • Jon Chelesnik

      It’s super cool to see your career path laid out so simply and clearly. You clearly did an outstanding job at each step, likely working beyind the position descriptions, to have advanced so quickly. Thank you for sharing that, Adam.

  5. Don

    Great article…I can say this I started at ESPN radio as a promotions worker and later became a radio programmer with a chance to be on the radio. Possibly the worst feeling is when I get a good report from the broadcasters who have no problem with me on the radio with them but when the upper management steps in, that part gets to me. For almost 2 years I’ve been fighting to get on the air and little by little I am but I am always looking for help to get where I want to get. I want to be a sports broadcaster and I want to do it full-time.

    • Jon Chelesnik

      Thank you for your comment, Don. Do I understand correctly that you are currently a PD at a sports radio station but that you aspire to be on air?


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