By Greg Bennett and Jeanette Bennett
As a fourth-grader at Clinton Elementary, Spencer Linton visited the studio of KSL 5 in Salt Lake City. The boy gravitated to the chair of sports anchor Craig Bollerjack (now TV voice of the Utah Jazz).
“I loved seeing the backdrop and the chair where the sports guys sat,” Spencer says of the 1991 visit. “I got on the set and took a picture. I decided I wanted to be Craig Bollerjack.”
A couple of years later, Spencer returned to the studio for another field trip and this time his professional idol was there — live and in person. Craig took a picture with his young fan, which now hangs in Spencer’s office (a former closet turned man cave) in the BYU Broadcasting Building.
Spencer and his co-host Jarom Jordan now have thousands of their own fans who’ve watched them more than 1,000 times since BYU SportsNation began on Sept. 2, 2013.
Their BYU SportsNation radio broadcast (and TV simulcast plus podcast) delivers a daily one-hour dose of Cougar sports, humor, 12-second movie reviews, blue goggle appearances and Twitter explosions.
While Spencer and Jarom don’t have quite the viral, wide-ranging appeal of their neighbors at Studio C, their creation of BYU’s first live daily TV show has won the day for Cougar faithful who crave BYU stats to retweet or swap at the water cooler.
The Game Unplan
The BYU SportsNation team is always group texting, always fanning over BYU sports and former athletes. Each weekday at 7:30 a.m., the chatter finds a rhythm and starts filling in columns on Google docs as producers, student employees and hosts take box scores, Twitter declarations, Honor Code violations and predictions and turn them into a non-scripted outline for a one-hour live show.
Although the audience has skyrocketed in its first four years, not all of the feedback for BYU SportsNation has been high fives.
“One guy wrote us a letter and meant to ‘dis’ us, but he didn’t realize how much we’d love it,” Jarom says. “He said half the show is quality BYU sports content, and the other half is ‘juvenile hijinx.’ And we were like, ‘Thank you for defining what we want to do with the show!’”
On the day Utah Valley Magazine shadowed the broadcast, the hosts saw a tweet from a Ute fan (true story) who noticed that on “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a box score flashes on the screen during a press conference scene with Steve Martin that shows BYU winning 19-16 over LSU. With that real-life matchup only 15 days out, the tweet became a headline for the hosts to clamor about.
“Why is a Utah fan watching that movie?” they bantered live from Studio B.
Before Spencer and Jarom filled their closets with adult-sized BYU shirts, Jarom had his own boyhood broadcast aspirations, including writing out a play-by-play script of a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game as a 6-year-old. At Copper Hills High School, he learned to shoot and edit video — and he looked for ways to show his personality in front of the camera.
After finishing at Northridge High School in Layton, which involved playing a number of sports himself, Spencer turned his attention to the broadcast journalism program at BYU.
The Preseason Workout
Although BYU SportsNation began filling its studio with random Cougar items and laughter, the beginnings were less colorful and connected to the short-lived lifespan of iProvo. Spencer was hosting a small sports show for the Provo-based cable-access channel and gaining experience in front of the camera. The show mainly covered local high school sports and, on occasion, would televise live games for Timpview or Provo High.
After a revolving door of co-hosts, the show finally got settled when Jarom — a BYU classmate of Spencer’s — was given a chance at the chair.
“It was our own mixture of SportsCenter, PTI (Pardon the Interruption) and interviews with local athletes,” says Jarom, who now lives in Saratoga Springs with his wife and daughter. “We had very little supervision and did a lot of on-the-job learning.”
Spencer and Jarom also teamed up as part of the KBYU newscast. Spencer was an anchor with Cooking Channel star (and former Utah Valley Magazine cover girl) Kelsey Nixon. ABC 4’s Emily Clark did weather and Jarom held down the sports desk.
“We developed camaraderie on both sides of the camera during those early years,” Spencer says.
Yin & Yang
“I’m the optimist,” Spencer says. “Jarom is the realist.”
Fans of the show rely on Jarom’s attention to data and statistics. Spencer’s fans love him for his “blue goggle” approach to discussing BYU. He’s a fan’s fan.
In 2015, the BYU men’s basketball team was preparing to play No. 3 Gonzaga in Spokane. While Spencer held out blue-tinted hope that the Cougars could knock off the conference rival, Jarom’s pragmatism was on full display when he made a cocky wager that he would shave his head if BYU won.
Then-junior Kyle Collinsworth finished the game with 20 points to lead the Cougars to the 73-70 upset over Gonzaga.
Skyler Halford, who played guard for the Cougars, collected on the bet and shaved Jarom’s head live on BYU SportsNation.
“The relationship between Jarom and I on the air isn’t fake,” Spencer says. “It’s not manufactured. We both love BYU, but we see things differently and never get tired of talking about our opinions.”
Two Roads Diverge
But let’s rewind to an earlier segment — before the kickoff of BYU SportsNation.
After graduating from BYU, Spencer became the sports anchor in Grand Junction, Colorado. He worked through his three-year contract — even unsuccessfully attempting to get Jarom to his station as the weekend sports anchor — and then came to a crossroads.
Again, enter Craig Bollerjack.
Through a mutual friend, Spencer was brought in contact with Craig — now the television voice of the Utah Jazz.
“He saw some of my work and told me I was ready to move on from Grand Junction,” Spencer says. “That gave me a lot of confidence and established him as a mentor to me again — but this time he knew he was influencing me. To this day, we see each other on occasion and we both know he was instrumental in getting me to where I am today.”
Spencer moved onto a broadcasting job in Palm Springs, California, where he interviewed golf legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and covered top-level tennis and golf. He viewed this gig as a stepping stone to larger southern California markets like Los Angeles or San Diego.
But a social media post brought the two broadcast bros back together.
True Blue Reunion
Jarom was hired out of college by BYUtv to be a full-time producer. With a limited staff, Jarom worked on a number of shows, including True Blue and pre- and post-game football, while also remaining in the “talent” pool as voice of the men’s volleyball broadcasts.
When Jarom posted a birth announcement for his baby girl on Facebook, Spencer reached out with congratulations and followed that up with a call in February 2013.
“He asked if there would be an opening at BYUtv,” Jarom says. “I told him, ‘yes.’ I knew he would work here and that we would be back together. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew it would happen.”
In the spring of 2013, senior coordinating producer Mikel Minor invited Spencer to assist with football media day.
“I was looking at Fox 5 in San Diego or maybe Indiana, but I felt strongly that I needed to come to Provo,” Spencer says.
After a successful “try-out” with media day, Mikel offered Spencer a job doing a sports-talk radio show for BYUradio and its recently launched SiriusXM station. With the radio show came full-time employment doing what he loved — talking about BYU sports.
The Converted Closet of Collaboration
BYU SportsNation hosts Spencer Linton and Jarom Jordan share a workspace that was converted from a storage closet into their own man cave. The BYU Broadcasting work space is complete with BYU gear, computers, couches and balls from all sports.
Producer Ben Bagley routinely joins the pair in the former closet, collaborating on what will fill 60 minutes the next day.
And every day after that.
“It’s our refuge,” Spencer says. “There are times we’ve worked a lot of hours and days in a row, and we get gassed. But, there has never been a day when I haven’t wanted to come into work. I’ve been tired, but that’s different. If I’m away from the studio for a bit, I miss it.”
Filling Out the Roster
Spencer was to host the radio show, which didn’t yet have a producer or co-host. The roster filled out when producer Ben Bagley came onto the scene just three days before the first show. Although they were looking for a former athlete to co-host, Jarom was invited to take the chair.
“Our connection got Spencer back to Provo and then it got me next to him,” Jarom says. “I didn’t take time off that first year because I was worried if I did, I would be replaced.”
Six months into the radio show, it began to be Simulcast on BYUtv, giving fans the chance to interact visually with Spencer and Jarom. The duo doesn’t rely on teleprompters or scripts. Instead, fans watch a handsome pair of well-prepared, well-trained friends talking about the Cougars.
The team also includes student researchers and producers, overseen by Ben. Co-hosts Brian Logan and Jason Shepherd get called up when needed to play the broadcast game.
Who’s In Charge?
Spencer is the host and Jarom is designated the co-host.
“But it’s not a first-chair trumpet, second-chair trumpet thing,” Jarom says. “It’s a combined skill set.”
The host works to keep the show on target, on time and on track. The co-host reacts.
“He’s witty,” Spencer says of Jarom. “He shines in the reactionary moment. Then, we go back and forth when I react to him. It’s a great dynamic.”
Throw in the planning and off-camera work of Ben, and the three all-stars design the plays, call the shots, and celebrate — or commiserate — any mishaps after the clock stops on the one-hour broadcast.
Jarom says the most common question he gets asked is, “Where’s Spencer?” The second most common is, “What’s next for you guys?”
That answer is easy. “The next day’s show.”
“We love what we do,” Spencer says. “People tell us we have a dream job, and we know we do. We’re happy to admit that. But it’s still a challenge. Doing a daily show is hard.”
But so is being an athlete, and when underdogs come out with the “W” and individual players bring the thunder sauce, Spencer and Jarom jump out of their voices to celebrate.
“It’s fun to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Jarom says. “BYUtv is an outlet to fans everywhere. It’s a way fans stay connected. We have a fan who interacts with the show from Afghanistan. That is huge for us. We’re reaching people all over the globe.”
A Note on the Show
“Football is king. Men’s basketball is second. Then after that, everything else is fair game,” Jarom says.
And no one does “everything else” better.
Jarom is the voice of BYU’s men’s volleyball broadcasts. Spencer does the play-by-play for other “Olympic” sports — including women’s basketball, women’s soccer, baseball and softball.
“We almost always cover Olympic sports in our second segment of BYU SportsNation,” Jarom says.
BYU SportsNation has had segments with the ultimate frisbee coach, a Harry Potter expert and others who offer perspective related to the Cougars.
“We’re employed by BYU, and we’re team players. So it doesn’t make sense to attack BYU, but we bring in guests who have different opinions on things,” Spencer says.
“We try to bring an objective look,” Jarom says.