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Dailed Into A Bigger Purpose: Tony Kurre

Laurie Stroud
Birmingham Christian Famliy - December 2014

From Classic Rock to Sports Talk, Tony Kurre's booming voice and sharp wit have been heard on Birmingham airwaves for more than 25 years. For the past eight years, Kurre along with Alabama's Jay Barker and Auburn's Al DelGreco have teamed up to take the "Opening Drive" morning show on WJOX-FM to top positioning in the sports talk radio market.

Radio brought Kurre to Birmingham Christmas Day 1988. At age 21 he became the afternoon drive time DJ on the then new Classic Rock 99. The job offer came at a time when Kurre had decided he just "wasn't that good at radio" and planned to go back home to Cincinnati from Louisville. "I'd had a lousy show. I had just called my mom and asked if I could move back home, and the next phone call I got was a guy out of St. Louis telling me he was starting a radio station in Birmingham Ala. He wanted me to be his afternoon guy. It was so bizarre," remembers Kurre. "So I thought, yeah I'll give it a shot. I'll give it a year. And it turned into another year and then 25 years." When Kurre came to Alabama, it didn't take along before he became indoctrinated into college football. In 1990, during Coach Gene Stallings first year at Alabama, Kurre climbed up on a billboard on one of the city's busiest intersections at the corner of Green Springs and West Valley Avenue. The radio station billboard advertised Alabama football and Kurre said he would stay there until Alabama won a game - not knowing it would be three weeks! "That was my 15 minutes of fame. I was on television all over the country and in the New York Times,' remembers Kurre. "Thank God for Vanderbilt. Alabama won their fourth game and I came down!"

Sports began edging out Rock as a profession when Kurre started getting airtime on Wimp Sanders and Sonny Smith's basketball show, covered four Olympics with sportscaster Herb Winches, co-hosted a mid-day sports show and then landed the Opening Drive. "Jay is Alabama and Al is Auburn and I could be in the middle firing it up, creating some chaos, stirring the pot a little bit."

A career in Sports Talk Radio fit with changes in Kurre's personal life. He married wife Nancy in 2002 and they had plans for a family. "I did Classic Rock for 20 years and wore it out. I started thinking what do I want to do with the rest of my life? From a legacy standpoint, I didn't want to be a Howard Stern." Nancy, a marketing executive with national Pizza Hut, met Kurre when she hired him to spin records at a managers' conference. Before marrying, they committed to finding a church home together and shared a desire to adopt a child. "No one in my family or his family had adopted," says Nancy. "We both just felt we wanted and needed to do it." The plan was to have a biological child and then adopt. After multiple miscarriages, the plan changed. "I thought God was telling us to go adopt first. So we did things in reverse," says Tony. The Kurres traveled to Guatemala to bring home their oldest son Santo. Tony says the experience was one God used as a faith builder. "Going through that whole process entrenched my life in so much hope. You had to believe in the process, that it would get done the way it is supposed to. You are in a strange country, there are quadrants that are extremely dangerous for anyone visiting there, and we are here with our first child. That is really when my faith started to grow," says Kurre. Three years later the couple was back in Guatemala to adopt their second son. "We had tried to get pregnant again, and it didn't happen. We felt God was telling us to go adopt again."

Although they had not requested a special needs child, when the Kurres met 10 month old Xavier they sensed he had challenges. People later asked me, 'why didn't you say no [to the adoption]?' but that was not even a question for us. Xavier was literally one of the last children out of Guatemala before adoptions closed there. I believe his case worker was trying to get him what he needed, but just went about it the wrong way," says Nancy. "We knew this is what God had planned for us."

Without medical records, it took many months of doctor's appointments to determine all the issues facing Xavier including brain damage, cortical vision impairment, epilepsy and severe allergies. "If you don't have faith facing those challenges one after the other I don't know how you do it, says Tony, admitting "The challenges Xavier brought into our life really tested my faith. And I've learned it is okay to question God. I discovered sometimes you have to take two step in what seems like the wrong direction to get to the right direction." Tony also says his son gave him a totally new view on people. "I will be the first one to tell you that when saw someone that looked different or acted different I wasn't comfortable. They may talk a little differently, walk a little differently but they are the coolest people. I look at Xavier now, not for what we did for him, but what he did for us. I couldn't be the man I am without him."

When Xavier was 18 months old, the Kurres learned he would be blind his entire life. The news set them on a course to help others. "I was thinking about a single mom with a special needs child," says Nancy. "Her love for her child is the same as mine but how does she do it?" The Kurres understood the demands on a special needs family. "You hit the ground running. It's just a different way of raising a child. You go to a lot more doctors. You have to be very perceptive and read into a lot what your child is trying to communicate to you. You are their advocate. You are their voice. You have to help them figure out what they are needing," explains Nancy.

In 2008, the couple decided to start the Bright House Foundation ( in honor of Xavier, whose name means, "bright eyes." "We had already named him Xavier before we knew about his blindness," says Nancy. "We took that as a little signal from God. Him saying, 'I've got you.'" Through the Foundation, the Kurres network with area non-profits like ARC, UCP and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind to help them help their clients and client families. "Special needs affect the whole family. Mom needs a winter coat just like the child does. She needs to be healthy to care for her son," says Nancy. Last year Bright House raised nearly $50,000, with every penny going to help families in need, but Tony points out their mission is much more than monetary. "Sometimes it's more about getting the word out about how you can be a more hands on helpful person to a family with special needs. Money can solve a lot of things but it's that support system that is critical."

Almost five years into their special needs journey, feeling complete as a family of four, God surprised the Kurres. Nancy gave birth to daughter Lila. "All in God's time," says Tony. "It's amazing, because if we had had Lila when we wanted to, we would never have adopted Xavier. We would never have had him in our life. But after we did, God gave us the gift of our daughter."