Richard Cross was the starting quarterback at Oxford in the fall of 1998, his senior season of high school. Already the wheels of an entrepreneurial future were churning in his mind.
Throughout college those wheels kept turning. But what that would ultimately mean remained the question. He got a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Mississippi and was ready to set sail.
Cross had done some public address work for basketball at Oxford High when he was a student there. He had also done some sports broadcasting on local radio and TV throughout his college days. He was preparing for a future that was still uncertain.
But there was one aspect of it all that remained foremost in his mind.
“I had wanted to do a sports talk radio show for a long time. I wondered if there was a way to do one in Mississippi,” Cross said. “After college I was working for Rebel Sports Marketing and doing play by play for Ole Miss women’s basketball, which I loved, and I was tracking on that career-wise. And I was a color analyst for Ole Miss baseball, and I was co-hosting the Ole Miss football pregame and postgame show. For a year or two I was the third guy on Ole Miss men’s basketball broadcasts.”
He was having a blast but his platter was full. Jane Easley was his fiance’ and there was a wedding upcoming.
“A year before Jane and I got married – we got married in 2006 – I was gone from September 1 to June 1 for 131 nights in basically a nine-month window. I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ So I backed away from some of that.”
Always looking for what was next, Cross, now married to Jane for almost ten years and with two children, six-year-old daughter Ava Montgomery and three-year-old son Oby, made some moves professionally at that time.
“I had a little business venture and that ended. Then I went to work for FNC in Oxford. Great company. Great people. I was selling computer software to banks. I was removed from the sports stuff except for a little bit of CSS work. And I was miserable. I was staring at a computer screen and cold-calling banks. The people at FNC were good to me. I tried to work hard for them. I wasn’t great for them, and I was like, ‘I gotta do something else.’ And Jane was supportive.”
So at that point he regrouped and charged forward.
“That was a little crazy to do, considering our first child was on the way,” Cross said. “I needed to make money. So I started Sports Talk with Richard Cross. It was on about six stations. It was broadcast from The Library above their sports bar. It was on Rebel Radio here in Oxford (the Ole Miss campus station). It was on an AM station in Jackson, and like four SuperTalk-owned ESPN stations. Maybe one other, like six or seven stations total. I went out and built this little network, selling the advertising and all. Some people stepped up. Renasant Bank has been with me from day one. I was not able to make that jump if they didn’t commit. And they did. I was able to piece together enough in ad revenue before I jumped so I would know there was some revenue coming in. And it worked.”
Unbeknownst to him at the time, his future was playing out as he had hoped. And almost exactly like he had hoped.
“I was juggling affiliates and sales and running my own little company and trying to do a radio show,” he said. “But the sales are suffering because I’m not spending much time on that. I didn’t know how much longer that was going to last, not because people didn’t like the show but because I wasn’t out beating on doors and calling on sponsors, things like that. Something had to happen.
“So that was going to go away and I was going to find something else to do. Or something was going to fall in my lap, or some angel was going to rescue me.”
Cross then got a call out of the blue, an important one that would be a “game changer” for him and his future.
“Hu Meena from C Spire, which was Cellular South at the time, was listening to the show while he was driving. I had pitched the show to Cellular South before and hadn’t really gotten anywhere with it. I got a call during the show and there was a voice mail. ‘This is Hu Meena. Give me a call sometime.’ So I did.
“He said ‘I want to talk to you about something.’ So I put together a sales presentation I was so proud of, and I went to see him. I put the presentation in front of him, and he slid it to the side and said, ‘We’ll talk about that later. I have something else I want to talk to you about.’ ”
Cellular South had been having a lot of success with its high school football television series “Y’all vs. Us.” That, according to Cross, had turned into “C Spire Bright Lights.”
“Hu said, ‘I don’t see why that type rivalry can’t work on radio, and I’m not talking about high school. I’m talking about Ole Miss-Mississippi State.’ I’m saying, ‘Yes. Yes. This will work.’ Because Mississippi didn’t have anything like this. A consistent daily talk radio presence in Mississippi just didn’t exist.”
And Head to Head Radio was born. But he needed a co-host from the MSU side.
“Hu suggested Matt Wyatt,” Cross said.
Wyatt was a former Mississippi State quarterback who had been in television and public relations since college.
“I knew Matt but not well, and Hu wanted me to reach out to Matt and see if he would be interested,” Cross said. “Matt said, ‘I’m in.’ And we went from there at that moment on that day.”
The network grew. The sponsorships grew. Mississippi Farm Bureau got involved. Mississippi Land Bank got involved. Cross’ reliable and longstanding friends at Renasant Bank were on board. There were others, but you get the picture.
“With the relationships I had and the relationships Matt had, and now that we were with C Spire, we were able to pull this thing together and make it work from a financial standpoint. Hu wanted us to grow, and we moved ahead from there.”
The relationship with SuperTalk Mississippi grew, and all the stations on that network were added. That meant Head to Head Radio was heard throughout Mississippi and even across the borders into surrounding states.
“We started Head to Head on July 11, 2011, and went about a year and a half on a network that we had just sort of put together and made work,” Cross said. “We crossed the three-year mark in January, 2016, with all the SuperTalk Mississippi stations.”
They’ve also taken the show from time to time throughout the state with remote broadcasts in places like Greenville and Brookhaven, Corinth and on the Gulf Coast, in Tupelo, Jackson, and at the Neshoba County Fair. That’s been a very popular move for the show.
And there’s another factor that has helped immensely. The fact that both Ole Miss and MSU are having high levels of success, especially in football, has helped their cause.
“The state of Mississippi is now experiencing what the state of Alabama has experienced for decades, and that’s both the SEC football teams being relevant in the conversation,” Cross said.
In some respects, Head to Head has also played a part in the move upward for college sports in Mississippi.
“At least I hope we’ve played a role in it,” Cross said. “I feel like we have. I don’t want to overplay our role in it. But we have moved in and filled a void that existed for a long, long time, and we have filled it with compelling content, strong opinions, and we’ve been fair to coaches. But we’ve been willing to say what we believe should be said. And, because of the success of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, our timing has been beautiful.
“In our time on the air we’ve had Hugh Freeze hired at Ole Miss, a trip to the College World Series for Mississippi State, a trip to the College World Series for Ole Miss, the launch of the College Football Playoff with Mississippi State and Ole Miss playing in New Year’s Six bowl games a year ago, Ole Miss playing in the Sugar Bowl this year, two NCAA Tournament (men’s basketball) teams for Ole Miss, the Marshall Henderson deal that is the gift that keeps on giving, a SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament championship for Ole Miss, the most transcendent player in Mississippi State football history in Dak Prescott, a basketball coaching change at Mississippi State with Ben Howland coming in…..it’s been an amazing five years. And in all 82 counties at 3 o’clock in the afternoon Head to Head is there.”
Cross did some televised basketball games for the SEC Network this past season. In the fall he does the pregame and postgame radio shows for Ole Miss football, along with Brett Norsworthy. And Cross is also the sideline reporter for all the Ole Miss football games. That spot opened up a couple of years ago with the untimely death of longtime UM sideline reporter Stan Sandroni. There was shock and disbelief as well as immense sadness that Stan was gone.
“We opened the season in Atlanta against Boise State and then played Vanderbilt in the Titans’ Stadium,” Cross said. “And during that week before the Louisiana-Lafayette game in Oxford, Stan died. It was a really sad time. We went with a silent sideline for the Louisiana-Lafayette game. There was a nice tribute to Stan on the video board, and there was a stool on the sideline with Stan’s headset and microphone. There was an open date the following week, and at the Memphis game the next week I was on the field.”
It’s a position he’s held since, and it’s one he’s honored to have.
But it’s Head to Head Radio that continues to be Cross’ daily gig. He and Wyatt are basically having a ball.
“We’ve been together now long enough that we know how to push each other’s buttons,” Cross said. “We’re comfortable with how things work. Now we don’t even talk about things. It just happens, for the most part. It’s a pretty comfortable thing now.”
It’s all a part of the future Richard Cross began to ponder all the way back to his football playing days on the high school fields of north Mississippi. And that future, just like the present, appears to be awfully bright.
Jeff Roberson of Oxford is a contributing writer for HottyToddy.com, The Ole Miss Spirit, and Rebel Nation magazine, where this story first appeared earlier this year. He can be reached at email@example.com.