Bob Gillespie

560 AM’s Lawton Swann helps shine a little orange on the Midlands

bgillespie@thestate.comMarch 14, 2014 

— THESE DAYS, with traditional media – newspapers, TV, radio – scrambling for new audiences via the Internet and social media, Lawton Swann is, you might say, going at it backwards.

Since July 15 of last year, Swann, by day a technology integration specialist with Lexington School District I, has become the radio voice of Clemson sports in Columbia. His “Clemson Sports Talk” program, 6-8 p.m. weeknights on WXBT-560 AM – Swann opens each night promising “two powerful hour-fulls” of Tiger-centric news and opinion – goes against the grain of South Carolina’s dominance in the Midlands.

One might assume that also makes him something of a voice crying out in the wilderness. His boss says that’s not the case.

“(The show) is one of the highest-rated two hours we have,” says Clear Channel operations manager LJ Smith, who says he took a chance on the radio rookie and hasn’t regretted it. “We call it ‘Clemson-leaning’ radio, but he’ll talk about anything.

“We knew he would do well with the (Clemson) faithful, but what we didn’t count on was how many USC fans listen to him. I hear from them all the time about how good a job he does on the Tigers.”

That’s in part because, while Swann admits to being a Clemson fan, he says he’s “not an orange-colored glasses” fan. He wants to know what’s going on with his school’s (Clemson Class of 2002) teams, good and bad.

Somewhat frenetic in person and on-air, he calls his “a hurry-up, no-huddle talk show. I’m the Chad Morris (Clemson football’s up-tempo offensive coordinator) behind the mike, and (listeners) are the finest set of radio receivers ever assembled.”

Fervor aside, what qualified him for his radio gig was that he’d already done it for nearly nine years – not on-air, but via online media with podcasts, his “TigerNet Talk” online show and the Tigernet.com website. He also was part of “Y’all Sports Daily,” a two-hour podcast heard in seven Southern cities, starting in 2007.

“When I moved to Columbia in 2004, as a Clemson person, I felt there wasn’t a show for me,” said Swann, 37. “I contacted (Tigernet.com), and they said, ‘What do you think of podcasting?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’ ” He still has the online show Sundays from 9-10 p.m., and a chat room at ClemsonSportsTalk.com (email Clemson81@gmail.com, Twitter @ClemsonSports or call (803) 450-0086 for voicemail).

“I needed a brand for myself,” he says, but admits that originally, doing radio “was the furthest thing from my mind.” That changed after Smith, also a Clemson fan, first heard Swann on a January 2013 podcast where he claims he was the first to interview DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins after the Tigers’ wide receiver declared for the NFL draft.

“I thought he did a good job with Clemson sports and sports in general, and we started conversations with him about doing radio,” said Smith, who also cites Swann’s coverage of receiver Sammy Watkins’ marijuana arrest in 2012. “He demanded to hear the (police) audio, see the tape. He dug for the truth and reported it.”

Swann’s first broadcast on 560, “I was sweating,” he says.

Eight months in, having done interviews with former Clemson coaches Danny Ford and Tommy Bowden and former quarterback Steve Fuller among others, he’s comfortable with his “new” media.

“It’s a conversation,” he says. “I’m alone (in studio), but not really.” Callers are a big part of the show, but Swann is the ringmaster. He opened a recent show by suggesting this year’s Tigers basketball team, minus big men Milton Jennings and Devon Booker, actually has a better inside game. Discussion ensued.

For now, balancing his several jobs and a family (wife, two small children) is enough, Swann says – that, and refining his product.

“If you’re good at what you do, it doesn’t matter who you pull for,” he says. “You just want to experience a good show. There’s a population of Clemson fans out there, but my show isn’t just for them.

“I want to have the best show every day. I want to be THE show in town.”

On radio, that is; better late than never.

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