The Jeremy Werner show has a Paxton connection

URBANA — When Jeremy Werner and Austin Burklund first met, it was at a basketball practice at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School.

It was 2009, Werner recalled. It was not long after Werner had started his first full-time sports reporting job — at what was then known as the Paxton Record and is now known as the Ford County Record.

As Werner walked into the gym to meet with players and coaches, Burklund was on the sidelines. The high school freshman was the basketball team’s student manager.

Fast-forward to today, and the two still see each other and talk regularly. But these days, the circumstances are different. Werner, now 30, and Burklund, now 23, team up on the radio airwaves every weekday as part of Werner’s new sports-talk radio show on ESPN 93.5-FM — The Jeremy Werner Show.

Werner is the show’s host, as its name implies. Burklund is the show’s producer, while he also appears on the show to provide a second voice.

“It’s really crazy,” Burklund said. “Whenever Jeremy left the Paxton Record, I thought, ‘This is probably the last time I’ll see Jeremy again.’ ... I never thought an experience like this would happen where I would be building a radio show from scratch with somebody who I have immense respect for and someone who I feel is a great mentor in this industry.”

With both Werner and Burklund having a connection to Paxton, they have occasionally reminisced about the town when off-air, including the PBL High School sports teams and athletes that Werner covered during his time in Paxton.

“And Just Hamburgers gets referenced a lot when somebody asks what’s good (to eat) in Paxton,” Burklund said.

“I bring up PBL every once in a while with him,” Werner said. “We’ve talked about PBL, because, while he was in high school, they weren’t doing so well in football, and now (coach) Jeff Graham has done pretty well. ... Once you’ve been in a small town like that, you’re always going to talk about it, because it’s just a tight-knit community.”

How the show got started
The Jeremy Werner Show’s first airing was Aug. 21. For the previous 6 1/2 years, Werner was co-host of the Tay & J Show, a weekday afternoon sports-talk radio show that, like The Jeremy Werner Show, is also operated by Stevie Jay Broadcasting in Urbana.

Werner was offered a chance to co-host the Tay & J Show in December 2010, following a brief stint as a sports writer for The DeKalb Chronicle in northern Illinois. The Peotone native had left his job as sports editor of the Paxton Record in July 2010, after starting that job a year earlier while still a senior journalism major at the University of Illinois.

Werner noted that his radio duties these days are not his main job. Since August 2015, Werner has been publisher of the Illinois Scout.com site, which “takes up a lot of my time.”

Working both jobs, Werner admitted, started to take a toll on him earlier this year. With his wife, Tiffany, working full-time in the Kankakee County communities of Bradley-Bourbonnais — and with their 14-month-old son, Torin, needing some fatherly attention — Werner decided this past summer that he would propose a work arrangement to allow for some extra family time.

So, Werner approached his boss at 93.5-FM, Stevie Jay, and asked him if he would like to start a morning sports-talk radio show that would allow Werner to work out of his home in the Iroquois County village of Clifton instead of having to travel to the Urbana studio each weekday.

From there, Jay agreed to let Werner start his own show. That left Tay & J Show co-host Lon Tay with needing to find a new co-host, and it soon became Mike Carpenter.

As Werner explained, having a show of his own “isn’t something I really planned on. But you can ask anybody: Once you get a kid in your life, things change.”

In addition to his duties running his Illini-focused website, Werner said the travel to and from Clifton to Urbana ate up a lot of his time.

“Doing a three-hour radio show and driving to Champaign-Urbana from Clifton every day, that added up to about six hours a day from that,” Werner said. “And with about six hours a day for the website, that doesn’t leave me much time for doing anything else. It became too much for me. ... So I went to Stevie and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m feeling. I feel like I can’t do these afternoon shows.’ I asked him, ‘Hey, I can do this (morning) show from home.’

“I always wanted a morning show on there, but I didn’t think it would be (hosted) by me. But I thought it would be beneficial (to the radio station). To his credit, he went for it and took a chance on it.”

‘He’s worked his butt off’
When it came time to find a producer for the new show, Burklund’s name immediately came to mind.

“He’s worked his butt off as an intern for us for so long,” Werner said. “He showed a lot of energy and passion for it. You can tell he’s the son of a farmer — he just has that work ethic and is passionate about sports. I always connected with Austin and thought he’d be good for that role (as a producer), and he worked for that role, too. I thought he deserved that opportunity, and he’s been great.”

Burklund, a rural Loda resident who graduated from PBL High School in 2012 before studying broadcast journalism at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and later Parkland College in Champaign, had been working as an unpaid, part-time intern for the Tay & J Show since summer 2012.

“I started off just answering phone calls and things like that,” Burklund said. “I started the internship (in the summer) right out of high school. I then left for SIU and picked it back up after moving back from SIU because my grandfather was dying from cancer.”

As an intern, Burklund helped operate the “running board” while working Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“When (Tay and Werner) were on location (and broadcasting from somewhere besides the studio), I made sure the commercials came through,” Burklund said. “And I played the audio they might need for wherever they were at. Whether it be a Lovie Smith press conference or a highlight from a game, I’ll play that from the studio in Urbana while they just do the talking.”

In September 2016, Burklund began producing and booking guests for the Tay & J Show. Burklund did that until Werner’s new show was created.

Today, Burklund is no longer an intern. And he gets paid, too.

Burklund said the opportunity to produce Werner’s show was too good to pass up. He remembers the day the offer came.

“Right before (the start of the Tay & J Show), a sales lady (for the radio station) came up to Jeremy and said, ‘Yeah, I hear you’re making waves here at the studio.’ And I was thinking, ‘What does that mean? And Jeremy said, ‘I’ll talk to you after the show.’ So the entire three hours of the show, I was just nervous,” Burklund recalled.
After that day’s show was finished, Werner approached Burklund and broke the news that he would be leaving the Tay & J Show to start his own show — and that he wanted Burklund to be a part of it.

“I was shocked — not by the fact the Tay & J Show was going away, but the fact he wanted to pick me as the guy,” Burklund said. “So I was nervous and yet excited for the opportunity, because I’ve never ran the board full-time — and without somebody making sure I’m doing it OK.”

Unique arrangement
While Burklund is in the Urbana studio, Werner broadcasts his new show from his home in Clifton. The show airs four mornings a week, and the arrangement allowing Werner to work from his home has worked out well.

“All you need is an Internet connection and the right equipment,” Werner said. “I’ve got a little studio downstairs in my house. So while Austin’s back at the studio, I just talk into a mic.”

About the only time Werner visits the studio these days is on Mondays when he goes to Champaign-Urbana to cover the weekly press conference of Fighting Illini head football coach Lovie Smith.

Werner stressed that he did not “want to leave” the Tay & J Show, but the circumstances dictated it.

“I want to get it across that I did not want to leave Lon; he’s one of my best friends, and now I don’t get to see him every day,” Werner said. “For seven years, I talked to him the same amount or more than my wife, because we were there in the studio for three hours a day. So that was really bitter-sweet to do that. But I told Lon, the things that are most important to me are my family, then Scout.com and then the radio show. And he understood that. It was hard to tell him that. We both love each other.”

Looking toward the future
Werner said he thinks his new show can grow and become a big success.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Werner said. “I think we’re putting on a good show that focuses on Illinois (sports). We talk a lot of baseball, too. And I think it fills a void in Champaign-Urbana, because there’s really no sports shows in the mornings.”

Burklund said that in its brief existence, the show is going “great” so far.

“Our podcast numbers are around 40,000, so that’s a great sign that people are listening and that there’s return listeners,” Burklund said. “And what we have through text-messaging and tweeting, we get a lot of retweets and people responding to our polls. So with how people are interacting with the show, that means there’s a lot more people listening.”

Burklund said his career goal is to become a radio producer in a bigger city.

“I would say my semi-medium goal is to become a producer in Kansas City — that’s where my parents live now — and then my biggest goal is probably Chicago or a national radio show,” Burklund said. “But right now, I’m enjoying growing our listener base in Champaign.”

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