A local success story: How Larry Kahn built Sports USA network into 10 years of NFL coverage and beyond

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Larry Kahn, center, and son Brandon, left, are in the booth with analyst Dan Fouts prior to a Sports USA radio NFL broadcast in Seattle.

There’s something to be said about the Sports USA syndicated radio network carrying its 300th NFL game this Sunday.

We’ll let the company’s founder and lead play-by-play man, Larry Kahn, say it himself.

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“It’s pretty amazing, considering where we started . . . really, pretty amazing,” Kahn allowed himself to admit from his Simi Valley office and studios this week.

“Honestly, I never was looking past my next game when I first started, let alone two years or five years or 10 years down the road. That’s crazy to look that far. We got into this at the right time. I always felt I could compete with anyone. The key is just keeping it quality first and foremost.”

Here’s a case where David has not only caught Goliath from behind, but he’s been standing toe-to-toe, calling him for the last few years.

In its 10th season of NFL games, Sports USA has become the largest independent syndicator of live sports play-by-play in the country, the main competitor of syndicated radio broadcasts to the giant Westwood One (now Dial Global). Twice, Sports USA was nearly granted the league’s prime-time, post-season and Super Bowl package.

The volatile business of corporate ownership and constant downsizing doesn’t often see these kind of entrepreneurial success stories stay on the radar.

When the 56-year-old Kahn decided to start his own Pacific West Radio Sports network out of his Simi Valley home in 1998, the primary focus was college football games. Kahn was just a couple of years removed from his first real business venture – buying the rights to carry USC football, basketball and baseball games in the mid ’90s, and then broadcasting the events himself.

That alone was quite a leap for the L.A. native from Fairfax High who grew up on the broadcast side of the business, spending much of his earlier sports radio days in L.A. covering the Dodgers and Angels for the old KMPC-AM (710) and as an anchor at KNX-AM (1070).

“I think we’ve all been in that position in our jobs – If I was in charge, I’d do it this way,” Kahn said. “I had to find out if I could do it, through the trials and tribulations, taking a deep breath, not over reacting, taking it a step at a time.”

His dream job since he was 3, he says, was to do play-by-play.

But now he been calling his shots as a businessman, taking the financial risk upon himself, figuring out how to set up a network, create a sales department and take meetings.

The renamed Sports USA network in 2002 ventured into carrying nine NFL games in the second half of the season on a trial bases for about 25 affiliates. It must have worked. Today, there are more than 300 stations carrying his games, including WFAN in New York, WEEI in Boston and KNBR in San Francisco.

Kahn has maintained a weekly Saturday college games to go with two NFL Sunday games, all with a staff of six full-time employees and about 50 part time that include game broadcasters such as former USC coach John Robinson, Dan Fouts and Gary Barnett and studio anchors Brian Golden and Ted Sobel.

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“Look at how many businesses seem to fail in California these days, and the state’s economy is falling off the cliff, but here’s a friend of mine for more than 30 years who I can’t be more proud for all the success he’s had with this,” said Golden, a longtime sports columnist at the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale. “I feel as much joy for him as a friend as I do looking at him as a boss.”

Two months ago, Kahn ventured off onto a new idea, creating a new syndicated show for Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, many of which are available on the website (www.sportsusaradio.com). He’s also aligned with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com for pregame information.

But Kahn, who will call Sunday’s Baltimore-Seattle contest with Robinson and Troy West for the network, heard locally on KABC-AM (790), is in no rush to grow beyond his means and create a debt situation that he can’t afford to maintain.

“It’s always been a family thing here,” said Kahn, whose wife Nanci is the company’s payroll and travel coordinator and son Brandon gets to make a few road trips on the weekends. “We do things you can’t do in corporate America. We’re in the business of having fun.

“But being here this long, to me – there’s no business model, it’s just a lot of common sense. Companies that over-expand lose their focus. And I know we’re really good at what we do right now. We do it better than anyone else.

“Did I ever expect all of this? No, but it’s worked. As a broadcaster and a businessman, I’m always trying to maintain our credibility first. I won’t take a fast buck to compromise the broadcast. Quality comes first, and the business end will take care of itself.”

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