SALT LAKE CITY — Spencer Checketts was talking before he can remember.
“My mom jokes when I was 8 months old I opened the fridge, took out an apple and said ‘apple,’” he says. “I was talking as an infant, as a toddler, as a preschooler. I was always the kid in class the teacher had to tell to shut up, always the one cracking jokes, always running my mouth.
"Talking has been my thing since the day I was born, something I’ve enjoyed doing, something I’m good at.”
So good that it turned him into the most popular sports talk show host on the Wasatch Front, until last spring when a DUI derailed all that — as sports writer Jody Genessy superbly chronicled in an article published Sundayin the Deseret News.
Now talking is helping him get back on his feet.
Checketts' very public fall from grace — when you’re the top sports talk show host one day and the next day you’re not on the air, people take notice — taught him something important: People are very forgiving.
“I messed up and I had to suffer repercussions; I understand that, I own that,” says Checketts. “But since then, for every one or two people that have moved on and seem to forget that I’m alive, I’ve got 99 or 100 that have my back.”
After losing his job as prime-time host on The Zone Sports Network, Checketts encountered two backlashes. At first there were expressions of outrage and disappointment at the irresponsibility of driving drunk. But following that a flood of well wishes and encouragement poured in via email and social media.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” he says. “You think that when things go south people just leave you for dead. When people sent all those messages I was taken aback. It made me just really, really grateful.”
A man connected to the podcast industry, Will Beatson, was among those who reached out. He suggested Checketts might want to think about getting back behind the microphone with his own weekly show. That in turn led to a conversation with Vik Singh, owner of a podcast network called Alternate Thursdays, and that led to a new show in the podcast universe called "Reality Check with Spence Checketts" (Realitycheckpod.com).
This past Halloween, eight months after being stopped going 120 mph on I-15 with well over the legal limit of alcohol in his system, and four months since spending five days in jail, a sober Spence Checketts was back on the air.
He came out firing. His first two shows were interviews with Jeff Van Gundy, the former coach and now popular NBA commentator. The next two shows were interviews with his father, Dave Checketts, who was Van Gundy’s boss back when Checketts was president of the New York Knicks.
The podcasts were marketed aggressively before they aired, aimed at, among others, all those folks who spoke up when Checketts was down. The result: "Reality Check with Spence Checketts" debuted at No. 36 on iTunes in the sports and lifestyle category, a Donovan Mitchell-like beginning.
Checketts’ plan is to continue to capitalize on his lifetime association with the NBA. He was just 5 years old when his dad became involved with the league, first as president of the Jazz, followed by the Knicks. By the time Spence was 25, he knew pro basketball like Einstein knew relativity.
That’s when Salt Lake radio station KFAN suggested he go on the air and talk about it.
He couldn’t quite believe it. They were offering to pay him to talk!
They still are.
“When everything went down and I realized it wasn’t going to work out (at The Zone), I had a couple of weeks where I wondered what I was going to do,” he says. “I could get a sales job, I could do advertising. I’ve done that before. But ultimately this is what I’m good at, what I’m passionate about, it’s where my relationships are, so podcasting is the way for me to continue to do what I love to do and what I’m good at doing without the necessity of having a team to back me.
“I miss it, don’t get me wrong. I really loved my (old) job, I miss the guys I worked with, I miss the station. But I had to find a way to reinvent and evolve.”8 comments on this story
Checketts is convinced that process would have taken longer and been more difficult if not for all the people pulling for him.
“You have your head down, you do your work, and you’re not really sure who is out there, who cares,” he says. “Then something like this happens and you find out. It really inspires your belief in people — that people are wanting good things to happen to others. It gives you the energy to get up off the mat.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to Will Beatson as Will Gleason.