It’s five minutes into his drive-time “Power Hour” show on KBAD 920-AM, and already J.T. the Brick is sparring with his co-host about the topic du jour: Should San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith have lost his job to second-year backup Colin Kaepernick? First J.T. raises his voice in defense of Smith. Then he rises out of his chair and becomes even more animated, as if listeners driving around town can actually see him.
It’s this kind of energy and passion that helped the New York native morph from John Tournour, the full-time Merrill Lynch stockbroker and part-time radio caller, to J.T. the Brick, the popular local and national radio host (his weeknight Fox Sports Radio show can also be heard on KBAD from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.). The career shift occurred shortly after Tournour, 47, won a call-in contest on Jim Rome’s radio show in 1995, and by Memorial Day 1996, he had his first full-time gig with the Las Vegas-based (and now-defunct) Sports Fan Radio Network. “I got into this business kind of being lucky,” Tournour says. “And I’ve completely enjoyed the ride!”
What possessed you to call into a sports-radio show?
It was all aggravation—I was always calling when I was pissed off or venting. And that’s kind of the way I run my radio show now. I think a good sports-talk show has an element of sports fans who are upset and angry—they don’t like the owner, they don’t like the general manager, they don’t like the quarterback. So it was calling out of frustration and wanting to get something off my chest.
Are there any parallels between your old job and your current one?
Yeah, the phone. My whole life has been based on the phone. Taking phone calls now—on the national show I do at night, I take a lot of calls—and back then [as a broker] it was all about how many calls you could make. And being fearless on the phone. That’s why I had an advantage as a caller when I started off, because I wasn’t afraid of the phone.
Did you enjoy being a stockbroker?
I did. It was an adrenaline rush. I treated it like a numbers game. It was just about, “Make 300 cold calls a day, every day, for five days, and try to qualify those prospects and open 20 new accounts a month.” It was such a ruthless business that if you didn’t really go balls-out hard, and if you weren’t comfortable on the phone, you had no chance to make it. I don’t know how anybody would do it today, unless you have a rich family or someone who’s going to start you off by giving you accounts.
Is there one issue in sports right now that’s got you particularly fired up?
Yeah, the BCS. The system that they currently have in college football is terrible. It’s a popularity contest. I’ve been talking about a six-team playoff for a decade, where the No. 1 and 2 seeds would have a bye, while No. 3 would play No. 6 and No. 4 would play No. 5, then you shuffle the deck again. That system would work the best, because the only team that gets screwed in a six-team playoff is [the team ranked] No. 7, whereas [this year] you could debate that there are three or four one-loss teams that might be the best.
The other thing is performance-enhancing drugs. That’s the biggest change that’s come into the business since I started in 1996, that now you have to expect that everybody is cheating. … Not only are players trying to cheat to gain an advantage to win, but they’re doing it to make more money—the difference between a $20 million contract and a $100 million contract is life-altering. And it frustrates me because fans want us to [stop talking] about that, but it’s never been more important. It’s not fair to go to a professional game not knowing who has an advantage because of PEDs.
Who’s at the top of your must-interview list, and what’s the very first question you’d ask?
Right now, it would be Lance Armstrong. And I’d ask him why he doesn’t tell the truth and come clean and start the forgiveness train and save several years of agony down the road. I’d say to him right out of the gate, “I understand why you didn’t want to tell the whole story. But now that it’s been obvious that you’ve been caught, just come clean now, and four or five years from now, people will forgive you. Why wait?”
What’s the best stock to buy right now?
I’ve been on that Apple train for a while, and I’ve definitely had to pull back. I buy conservative, blue-chip stocks when they get hit 20 percent or lower. I like to go in and buy stable stocks when there’s a pullback in the market. And over the next four years, with this fiscal cliff … I think the market’s going to be very volatile, and if you’re going to come in and buy speculative stocks, you might get your head lopped off. In Vegas, it’s a great time to buy good real estate that’s depressed, and with low interest rates, there are great opportunities there. But on the stock front, I’d be very cautious.
You recently signed a book deal, and it’s due out next summer. What’s it about?
It’s an inspirational memoir titled The Handoff about my relationship with my [former] boss, my mentor, who worked at Fox [Sports Radio]. The guy was guiding me in my career the whole way, and we got to a point in our working relationship where we had a falling out, then he got diagnosed with cancer, and he came back to me and said, “I need your help.” Along the way, we never talked about our problem—and that’s the book, in a nutshell. The book is, if you haven’t talked to your cousin in 10 years, but he calls you and says, “I have terminal cancer,” you’re not going to say, “OK, let’s first talk about what happened.”
The book is about forgiveness, faith, help, mentorship—it’s a very bold, Tuesdays With Morrie type of book, with a sports [angle]. But it’s not a sports-talk radio book. I’ve been in the process of writing it for the last three or four months with a co-author, and it’s probably going to be the most important project I’ve ever embarked on.