The Cornettes Are Co-Hosts for Life

Jordan (left) and Shae Cornette.
Jordan (left) and Shae Cornette. / Courtesy of Jordan and Shae Cornette.

It's a commercial break on any given fall Sunday. Shae and Jordan are co-hosting GameDay, their weekly NFL show on ESPN Radio. The football action is coming fast and furious. There's some tension in the air, as there is with any radio duo. But this is a very specific blend. An artisan roast or microbrew. It's a byproduct of the greatest professional and personal blessings either has ever experienced. It's also a byproduct of an enormous challenge to balance the professional and personal, the individual and the collective.

These two have supreme trust in each other. A unique and entirely honest chemistry as powerful as any in the industry. They share everything. From a vision to a studio to a history. They drive 45 minutes to Bristol together for every show. They are in constant communication, bouncing ideas and takes off each other like a perpetually in-use pinball machine.

Such is married life. One guided by Shae's two simple rules: "Don't go to bed angry and don't go on-air angry."

The arrangement makes them matrimonial trailblazers. The Cornettes began to forge their own direction back in 2014 when they met at Campus Insiders where their mutual drive and talent drove mutual interest. Five years later they were married. Six years later they are a national radio tandem with their first child together due in the spring.

And while work is not usually the most flowery part of a love story, one gets the impression that every day at the office is another opportunity to clasp hands and feel that initial spark once more.

"There have been moments where she is hitting her stride and I'm really turned on," Jordan laughs. "That's my wife crushing it. We came into this thing not knowing each other from a ham sandwich and we both had an appreciation for the other's skill set. That turned into an intimate relationship, which turned into being married with a child. It's all happened organically."

It's a unique situation. Imagine merging the most intimate sectors of your life with the most public. Imagine putting all the family eggs in one basket and the inescapable pressure that comes with being an employee, spouse, parent, and partner. The prospect seems Herculean for someone comfortable with the walls of compartmentalization.

It is decidedly not for everyone.

"Each relationship is different," Shae explains. "We thrive together in front of a camera or microphone and we always have since we first met. That's what drew us to each other in the first place. It's what we've grown into and it's what we're comfortable with."

The Midwest natives made initial contact in Shae's hometown of Chicago. She'd contributed to Big Ten Network and established herself as a refreshing voice on Bears coverage. Jordan, an Ohio native, had a stint at CBS Sports and co-hosted a show with David Kaplan on ESPN 1000. Each had built a foundation. They opted for a stronger one together.

There were reservations about bringing the off-air relationship to the airwaves. "We are going to kill each other," Shae told the Indianapolis Star about her initial concern. Their maiden co-hosting voyage hit choppy, unfamiliar seas.

She recalls their first show together and how they overthought it.

"We studied separately and it was a disaster. We normally watch games together, talk through it together. We realize talking like we talk on the couch at night will lead to people respecting the opinion more."

"We made a really big mistake early on of thinking that when the lights were on we had to be different and TV-ish," Jordan admits. "We wanted to sell that this is a thing. And the first show we did on ESPN Radio was really awkward. When we finished, she was annoyed and I was annoyed because I knew it wasn't good. She asked me why I was so tense. I wanted the world to see her the way I see her for the talent I know she is. I micromanaged my wife and it was the dumbest thing ever. I was driving the show and was limiting her ability and we finished. I told her that I totally screwed this thing up. I don't know why I did that."

With introspection came an epiphany. They didn't have to sell anything. There was no new product to refine. They simply needed to package and present who they were. How they relate to each other and the sporting world that surrounds.

Jordan explains: "I left that day realizing that we just need to be us. In our house, when we meet people it's always her going first and talking to them. It's her telling me what we're going to be doing. Let's make it authentic. How we are in this house, I promise you, is how we do radio. Our approach has been to treat it like a few hours of the day where people get to listen to what we're doing."

"We realized Week 2 that Shae was going to be the driver," their producer Spencer Rays says. "It just made sense. She was going to be leading the pack, keeping us on track. Jordan would stray off a little bit and then she would too. And that's where the marriage component came in. Marriage stuff did bleed onto air sometimes but that's part of the uniqueness. Work and life mesh, that's going to happen. They're going to air out their laundry a little bit."

Make no mistake. The laundry is a light cycle. It doesn't overflow. Ray describes the Cornettes as being "in-love married." It's an apt description. To speak to them both at once is to bask in a genuine affection. They are playful and introspective. Supportive and funny. Their energy is refreshing, like a pair in the honeymoon stage of dating. The rapport is real and soothing to the point that you feel a part of it.

The tone and tenor of their interplay is a powerful weapon.

Finding the perfect calibration on-air is more art than science. Sometimes they'll have awkward fights because they're leaning into their around-the-clock partnership. They've considered the danger and downside of being viewed as a gimmick by steering away from sitcom tropes.

Says Jordan: "We've avoided saying, 'hey, we're the first married couple, we're married. You're so goofy, did you do the dishes tonight.' You know, lame stuff like that. Honestly, I'm shocked that there aren't more people who are married in this business because when we were just friends, so many people thought we'd make it big together. They could see that we had chemistry. If you're in a room with us you can see that we really get along."

"For the most part there's been a lot of really good reaction," Shae assesses. "More than usual. There are the few people who chime in and don't realize we're married who think he's being really mean to this woman or this woman doesn't stop nagging this guy and they don't realize our dynamic. When there's moments like that, it's clear they don't understand it. We can be more real with each other than most co-hosts. We can overstep boundaries. That's to our advantage."

There is no shortage of egos on the airwaves. And even the most successful partnerships have to constantly grapple with managing them. Anyone who is married understands how crucial negotiating that dynamic can be. The Cornettes are confident and resolute in their shared trust. They are each other's biggest cheerleaders. They always have that bedrock to fall back on, which allows them to push the envelope between the personal and professional, resulting in an almost irreplaceable vibe.

"Sometimes we'd play it out on air," says Ray. "Are you Team Jordan or Team Shae? In playing referee, sometimes I was with him, sometimes I was with her. We were good at checking it. I think I was fair for the most part. It wasn't serious, though. It's just the human element of a relationship. What makes them different is that the show is essentially if there were microphones in their home like Big Brother. That's why you'll get the petty arguments. Sometimes [Jordan] can be a little aggressive in the breaks, or vice versa. Other shows may not have as open of a dialogue."

The specialness of it all is not lost on them. Pre-COVID, Jordan was traveling a lot for work. They were more two ships passing in the night than charting the same course. They're deeply thankful for the opportunity to do what they love most next to the person they love most, calling it the, "coolest thing in the world."

In an ideal world, they'd work together more than one day a week. But they are patient, and realistic. Firmly aware that all they could do is try to knock it out of the park on Sundays while savoring the moments. That's because they've put in the work. They always have. It hasn't been an overnight, meteoric rise for either.

Perhaps that's taught them the value of preparedness. Or made the 24-hour show prep feel normal. Or elevated the importance of communication to unprecedented levels. They speak fondly of improving both themselves and their partner. Of lighting up each other's blind spots and sharing a vision. Of being each other's champion.

It's not a hollow earnestness. It rings real and true and authentic.

"What we're giving you is truly who we are," Jordan says.

And damn, is it easy to believe.