By LARRY VAUGHT
After he was asked about joining Christi Thomas on the two-hour Countdown to Kickoff on the UK Radio Network, former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard wasn’t sure what to expect.
He had never met her and knew she would be the first female to host a pregame radio show for any Southeastern Conference football program if the idea worked.
“We had a lunch meeting (about three years ago) with the JMI folks to discuss the possibility of doing a pregame show,” said Maggard. “Her preparation and organization impressed me. She runs the show, there is no doubting that. Plus, growing up the daughter of a defensive coordinator, her X and O knowledge is at a high level.”
That’s obvious on the Countdown to Kickoff that will air live again Saturday in front of the Nutter Field House outside Gate 1 of Kroger Field near the Coke Fan Zone (for away games the show airs from various Kroger stores in Lexington).
Thomas had done plenty of TV work but no radio when she was approached about hosting the pregame show with Maggard. She was as apprehensive as Maggard going into their lunch meeting.
“After Freddie and I had lunch, I knew we had hit it off. I knew we could be good,” she said. “Nobody does more homework or works harder at understanding football than Freddie. I just set him up and let him go. He has been that good.
“His military background (in the National Guard) and being a quarterback, he is methodical and prepared. Sometimes in the media we are not as organized as we should be. But we both need structure to function. We can fly by the seat of our pants but we like to be prepared. He has great ideas on ways to energize the show. We spend all week talking about what to say.”
Thomas jokes that in another life she was meant to be a boy and a football linebacker. Her father was defensive coordinator at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville. When Campbellsville University started football in 1987, her dad coached there.
“I spent all my years growing up as a water girl for the football team,” Thomas said. “I spent a lot of time in the football locker room, sideline, huddles, breaking down film with my dad. I always loved college football. Me getting into sports and athletics was just natural.”
She didn’t want a male-dominated audience to see her on air and wonder “who is this dumb blonde” doing sports. Instead, she wanted them to talk about how well she knew what she was doing.
“A female in this industry can lose credibility in a minute,” she said. “There was a time where stations never tried to implement any sex appeal. You had to know your stuff. Then it evolved to having a pretty face on the sideline and it didn’t matter what she knew. Now they want the best of both.”
Thomas won’t settle for second best. Maggard says she worries constantly about fans and creating a show that fans will like and share ownership of every time.
“Want to tick her off? Say, ‘Well that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ That don’t fly with Christi Thomas,” Maggard said. “If any idea or concept isn’t best or better for the listener, she wants no part of it. She’s a UK fan. We work very hard to liven up the broadcast to enlighten, engage and entertain the listeners. Status quo is not an acceptable answer for her.”
So just how intense is she?
“I’ll put it nicely. She is intense, competitive and accepts nothing but the best from all involved in the broadcast. So yes, she’s meaner than a Copperhead (snake),” Maggard said.
Thomas prefers to call it “fiercely loyal” to each other.
“When we first met for lunch three seasons ago, I may or may not every now or then drop a few choice words when they were needed. After Freddie picked his jaw up off floor … he got it,” Thomas laughed and said. “But he is married to a strong-willed woman. He felt right at home with me.”
He did, and still does. Maggard still wonders why Thomas does not get more credit for being the first female host of a network football pregame radio show in the SEC.
“That’s huge. My partner is crazy smart and excellent at her job. She makes my role easy,” Maggard said. “She’s simply the best.”