By Kenny Colston
It’s a little before 5 p.m. on a Wednesday and two brothers are preparing for a sports radio show that really wasn’t supposed to happen.
At this point in life, Darrin Horn should be the head coach of a major basketball program, a consistent contender in the NCAA tournament. At worst, he’d be continuing to build a virtually non-existent University of South Carolina program into a respectable Southeastern Conference basketball team. Horn would be on the radio, sure, on his own coach’s show or calling into national programs like the Dan Patrick Show or ESPN’s Mike and Mike.
His older brother, Greg Horn, would be a multi-millionaire owner of at least one grocery store, if not more. Sports would be an interest, like it’s always been, but he wouldn’t be sitting in a central Kentucky radio studio, waiting to cue up a Saturday Night Live-esque introduction to his show on 1250 AM WLRT.
But life never happens the way it’s supposed to.
So instead of what seemed to be two destined paths, the Horn brothers instead are the latest duo in Lexington sports radio, hoping to bring a new perspective on a familiar topic.
“We’re not a typical sports station,” Darrin said. “But we’re a show, if you’re driving home or having dinner with the family, we think we can be pretty enticing and informative for folks.”
And while it isn’t the original path to fame and fortune for either Horn brother, it’s not like they are drowning in their sorrows either.
“If we make it to No. 1, that’s great, if we’re No. 2, that’s great,” Greg said. “It’s just been tremendous, a huge blessing (to have Darrin back). It’s a lot of fun.”
For the uninitiated, Darrin Horn is one of the few Lexington basketball legends that never played or coached for UK. He took Tates Creek High School to the 1991 Boys Sweet 16 final. From there, he had a strong career at Western Kentucky University, notably hitting a game-winning three point shot to defeat Denny Crum’s Louisville squad in Freedom Hall in 1993. He took the Hilltoppers to three NCAA tournament appearances before graduating.
He then immediately jumped into coaching, first as an assistant at WKU, then Morehead State and finally at Marquette, including the 2003 Dwayne Wade-led squad that shocked Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament. He started his head coaching career back at WKU, taking them to three NCAA tournament appearances, a conference title and more than 100 wins in five seasons. A jump to South Carolina was next.
And that’s where things started to go south. Two years ago, Horn ended up back in Lexington with his family and a pink slip. But the good news is, where people in Columbia, S.C., may recoil at Darrin’s tenure, those who see him in Lexington certainly don’t.
“This is a good place to live, even if you don’t have family,” Darrin said. “Plus, people see you as the guy for 39 out your 41 years, not the last two.”
For Greg, it’s been more of a roller coaster: a big high at the beginning, a steep valley in the middle, and a couple of twists and turns along the way.
For the oldest Horn son, he’s mostly known for his 10 years spent as executive minister of NorthEast Christian Church. The massive church went from Sunday services in a gym every week to a massive complex built with a $10 million capital campaign.
For that decade, Greg Horn raised money, managed finances, preached, and did funerals and weddings and more. The thing Greg is most proud of during his time as the church’s “chief of staff” is a 2,000-person worship center.
“It’s a great venue for people, it’s a great facility for all of Central Kentucky,” Greg said.
But being a pastor for the rest of his life wasn’t meant to be.
“One of the great things about being a minister is you get to help a lot of people,” he said. “But thing is, it’s a 24/7 thing. And I have a hard time saying no to people.
“So I felt my season was over, so to speak. I didn’t really feel like faking and my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I could have collected a paycheck every week, but I took my position as a pastor very seriously. It was a hard decision to leave.”
But NorthEast wasn’t the start for Greg. No self-respecting pastor is a millionaire. The start was actually in basketball, as an assistant coach for two years at WKU, including one year with his brother on the team.
He washed out of coaching and into sales with The Hershey Company, then started his own grocery store in Cynthiana, Ky., called Payless Supermarket. Within a few years, he was managing 100 employees and $10 million in sales.
Greg Horn was going to be a millionaire by his mid 30s. He was at the top of the roller coaster, with the entire world under him.
But like all roller coasters, the ride must come down. In this case, it came down in the form of rain. Lots of it, enough to flood most of Cynthiana and especially the Payless Supermarket.
“I went from being a millionaire in three to four years to struggling to pay the loan insurance,” Greg said. “I called up my insurance agent and turns out I had every type of insurance except flood. So that was a game-changing moment at 34.”
But just like the story of Noah’s Ark, the rain didn’t just happen on one day. After reopening his flooded store within three weeks, Greg had trouble keeping up with payments to cover the $2 million in flood damage. He closed the store for good. And when he got home that night, the rain kept coming.
“My wife told me she didn’t love me anymore,” Greg said. “I had to put my house up for sale to cover flood insurance. So I lost my business, my home and my marriage in a 24 hour period.”
Those events, combined with his time at NorthEast, as well as consulting work after leaving the church, led Greg to get back to his roots. His college roots at least. Having graduated with a bachelors of arts in communications, with an emphasis in telecommunications, Greg parlayed a stint as a marketing manager at WLRT 1250 AM into a dual role in marketing and as sports director.
The talk radio station plays mostly syndicated shows, like the brothers’ lead-in, Dave Ramsey, as well as Dennis Miller and Laura Ingrahm. The only local show is the Horns.’ And Greg sees it as a good thing.
“We’re the only sports program besides Chris Cross (on at that time),” Greg said. “We saw it as a great niche. From 5 to 6 is one of the most popular times. And Dave Ramsey is the third largest syndicated show in the nation. It’s a great lead-in.”
So far, the two brothers work the show every Wednesday, under the “Hoops with Horn” banner. During the recent UK basketball Big Blue Bahamas trip, Darrin appeared on the show more often.
It’s a delicate balance, since Darrin is contracted as a college basketball analyst for ESPN and is gearing up with the launch of the new ESPN-affiliated SEC Network channel. But those connections also help land big name guests other new shows would only dream of.
“We’ve had Jay Bilas on, I know a lot of coaches from being one myself and my time at ESPN,” Darrin said. “What I’m able to do is bring perspective of sitting on the sidelines and I can say, this is what a coach is thinking, this is what happened.”
The bad news is that there is no shortage of people with opinions of UK basketball on the radio. The good news is, few have the experience on the coaching bench like Darrin, and to a degree, Greg has, and secondly, there’s only one other drive-home sports show on in Lexington from 5 to 6 p.m.
But neither Horn brother said publicly they are competing to be the next king of Lexington sports radio. Having just launched in July, the purpose is honing their talent, not becoming radio conquerors, at least for now.
“We’re focused on the process, not the result right now,” Darrin said.
And UK basketball isn’t the only topic. The two tackle national topics from time to time, as well as local high school sports. Greg does a weekly coach’s show with the football coach at Lexington Christian Academy and WLRT will air high school sports, Notre Dame football and NFL games this fall.
When Darrin isn’t on, Tim Smith and Anthony Combs fill-in with Greg, with Smith usually on Mondays and Combs on Thursdays.
When the two aren’t on the radio, Greg spends time as director of development for LightHouse Ministries, as well as pastor of the Little Texas Community Church. He plans to once again leave the ministry to pursue his newfound sports career more.
With a background in business, ties to the Hamburg community and a knack for the ministry, it’s a wonder why Greg wants to try a sports radio career, a medium many consider to be going out of date. But it’s those very experiences that led him to pursue a dream he had back in his 20s.
“People also say they wish they had taken more chances and I don’t want to live with a regret,” he said. “I’m doing it retro, I’m going back 25 years and doing what I did in college. I was trying to figure out my next step and the opportunity presented itself.”
For Darrin, it’s speaking engagements, local, national and international basketball camps and ESPN appearances. Darrin said his family is happy in Lexington and his extended family is happy to have them back, Greg said.
Darrin is still working to get back into the college ranks as a head coach, with the “right fit,” he said. But going into his third year out of coaching, the possibility his career stays in the media realm is looking more realistic now than it did at the beginning. As for giving up the coaching dream and staying on TV and radio, Darrin said he’s young enough that it doesn’t matter.
“It’s a possibility (of staying in media),” he said. “At 41, I never say never. What would factor into it is, ‘is my family happy?’ That’s as much of a factor for media over coaching. I don’t know that it’s an either/or decision.”
And while Greg said Darrin’s stumble out of coaching wasn’t fair, he’s glad to be working with him on Lexington’s newest sports radio show.
“We’re going to enjoy the ride as long as it is,” he said. “It’ll be at least seven to eight months. So we’re just going to enjoy that ride.”
And for Darrin, while he still has the coaching itch, he’s resolved the one that was calling him back to Lexington, the one that lets him work with his big brother.
“That’s the best part about it,” Darrin said of his radio show. “There’s no one who has been more supportive than both of my brothers. We’re thankful to be back and I’m excited about this opportunity.”