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Smallmon Appreciates Her Climb To ESPN Radio

Jason Barrett

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Tony and Robin Smallmon weren’t surprised when their sports-minded only child Michelle landed a job four years ago on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis. She was producing a show and doing on-air banter with the likes of the former St. Louis Rams’ player D’Marco Farr, sportscaster Randy Karraker and veteran sports writer Bernie Miklasz.

But when Michelle got the call this summer to move to “The Mothership,” ESPN’s network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., the family response was divided.

“My dad was very excited and my mom started sobbing,” said Michelle. No more Sunday family dinners together. “She thinks I’m never coming home.”

Michelle spent the past four years with 101 ESPN in St. Louis, where she produced and did some on-air work on the “Bernie Miklasz Show” and “The Fast Lane” with Karraker, Farr and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson.

“I was very happy here,” she said. But when the opportunity arose to interview for a job in Bristol, she took it. She started in July and eventually settled into producing a weekday evening radio show called “Jorge & Jen.” It debuted in late September, but is currently not airing in St. Louis. It can be heard on www.espnradio.com, the ESPN app, SiriusXM, Apple iTunes, Slacker Radio and TuneIn.

“When I got there, I was not assigned (to a show). I was supposed to take ‘College GameDay.’ But they thought I would be better served with a Monday through Friday show. It’s a much more prominent position.”

A graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in broadcast journalism, her first job out of college was entry level, as a production assistant with KSDK-TV.

“I always wanted to write. I wanted to be a sports writer,” Michelle said.

But she liked to talk sports, too — “I’m a Chatty Cathy” — so she found herself having off-air conversations with KSDK sportscaster Frank Cusamano and sports director Rene Knott. When Knott started doing a weekly sports wrap-up show, he asked her to sit in and make some comments, Michelle said. She also was handling remote production on the sidelines at Rams games.

A fan of sportswriter Bernie Miklasz, she took note when ESPN radio came to St. Louis and he got his own show. Then Bernie’s producer moved on.

“I had never produced radio, but I wanted to work with Bernie,” Michelle said. “I thought I would always be in TV. … When I got the call, plans change and you roll with it.”

He took a chance with her, she said, as producer of “The Bernie Miklasz Show,” then “The Fast Lane.” Sitting in the booth running the shows, the hosts would throw her questions or ask for comments, and in 2014, she began hosting the weekly “Rams Playmakers” show, featuring in-depth interviews with various players.

“I was dealt the best hand of cards with Bernie,” she said. “He’s been my biggest supporter and champion.”

Bernie said he knew she was the one for him “about five minutes into the interview. … She was so smart and witty and vibrant. … And she knows sports. She loves sports. She understood how much our teams and athletes mean to the community,” he said. “That combination of knowledge, spark and sincerity was just what I wanted. She had no experience producing but I didn’t care. The mechanics of producing can be taught and learned. But you can’t teach someone to have flair. You can’t install an abundant personality.”

D’Marco showed her what acceptance is all about.

“One of the best guys ever. He treated me like one of the guys,” she said. “He said, ‘I forget you’re a girl sometimes.’ My gender isn’t in play.”

But Bernie says being a woman still comes into play.

“To be honest it bothers me that she doesn’t have her own radio show. She would be better at it than 75 percent of the people that host sports talk radio. She is a rare talent,” he said. “It infuriates me how the sports media industry still has a way of putting women into a certain slot. … Michelle can hang with any guy in terms of sports knowledge. She can hang with any guy in dishing out zingers and taking shots. When she produced my show she had a chance to contribute on-air, and listeners loved her. Men liked her. Women liked her. She earned across-the-board respect. She is a wonderful producer, but she should be a star. She’s that good.”

For now, her job in Bristol involves behind-the-scenes production and on-air skills to keep the show moving and on time.

Michelle says she’s very organized, a necessary skill for a producer. “You have to be very Type A and have your ducks in a row, to have everything set up in advance,” she said of getting a show ready for broadcast. “You have to be just as prepared or better prepared than the host.”

Which means long before she dons the big headset and sits down to run the show, she spends hours doing research, setting up guest bookings and web development. She frequents Twitter and Instagram, too.

To read more of this article visit the Belleville News Democrat where it was originally published

Sports Radio News

Danny Balis Joins 97.1 The Freak

“I feel kind of nervous because I haven’t done this in a long time. I thought this may not ever happen to me again, to do radio with people I’ve known for a very, very long time.”

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Longtime Sportsradio 96.7/1310 The Ticket producer Danny Balis is joining 97.1 The Freak in Dallas.

Balis was introduced Monday as the newest member of The Downbeat cast, which already features Mike Rhyner, Mike Sirois, and Michael Gruber.

“He was the one I want, and I get what I want here,” Rhyner said during Monday’s announcement.

“I’m excited,” said Balis. “I feel kind of nervous because I haven’t done this in a long time. I thought this may not ever happen to me again, to do radio with people I’ve known for a very, very long time.”

Balis left The Ticket in May, citing an interest in focusing on other areas of his life outside of radio. He served as a producer at the station for 22 years before stepping aside. At the time, he said “The room for growth for me up here is not going to open up until all you knuckleheads retire,” the 54-year-old joked.

In addition to his work with The Freak, Balis continues to co-own the Twilite Lounge in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

97.1 The Freak launched in October, and features a “broad-based, personality driven format” that features several former Dallas sports radio personalities including Rhyner, and Ben and Skin among others.

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Sports Radio News

Shan & RJ: We Have Questions About Jerry Jones But Washington Post Report Isn’t One of Them

“We all have some skeletons in our closet, but to throw the weight of the word racist on anyone, you’re gonna have to come with more than that.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones found himself in the headlines last week ahead of the team’s Thanksgiving Day game, but it was largely seen as something that didn’t need to be dragged out into the spotlight, and 105.3 The Fan hosts Shan and RJ agreed.

The Washington Post last week published a photo from 1957 showing a 14-year-old Jones among a crowd of onlookers as white students tried to block the path of some Black students attempting to enter his North Little Rock, Arkansas high school.

The piece focused on Jones, who is the Cowboys general manager, never hiring a Black head coach in the entire time he’s owned the franchise.

On Monday, Shan Shariff said it seemed a bit much to use that photo and article to paint Jones as some sort of racist.

“There’s certainly a bunch of stories out there that we know on and off the record about Jerry Jones that makes me question his morals,” he said. “We all have some skeletons in our closet, but to throw the weight of the word racist on anyone, you’re gonna have to come with more than that.”

Cowboys insider Bobby Belt, who was filling in for co-host RJ Choppy on Shan & RJ, said Jones has likely evolved like a lot of people do over time. He didn’t think it was fair to necessarily say Jones was racist.

“I’m not gonna speak for anyone else but I don’t believe he’s racist,” Belt said. “I think there are enough people who have dealt with him who are African American who would tell you they don’t think he’s racist. But it’s still not a thing that you can just write off to ‘Oh I was just standing there.'”

Jones admitted to the Post that his football coach at the time told him and other players not to get involved or be among the crowd for that moment, but he went anyway.

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Sports Radio News

DiPietro & Rothenberg: NFL TV Partners Should Schedule Jets and Giants at Opposite Times

Jordan Bondurant

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For the first time in a long time, both the New York Giants and the New York Jets are factors in the NFL playoff picture. After years of both franchises occupying the bottom portions of the league standings, fans in New York and the surrounding area have a reason to believe. On DiPietro & Rothenberg on ESPN New York, Dave Rothenberg said he thinks the league should put both teams in more marquee windows.

“When you start to think about flexing games, you start to think about you know what, the Giants and Jets should be flexed into better time slots,” he said.

Co-host Rick DiPietro said it sucks now that both teams are playing well, fans are essentially forced to flip back and forth between games.

“It’s awful. It really is,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it ruins the Sunday because that would be hard. But it’s not my favorite.”

Still, it’s not lost on Rothenberg that football fans in the city now have something to cheer for NFL wise as the last chunk of the regular season approaches.

“When was the last time the Jets and Giants in December had meaningful football games?” Rothenberg asked. “Years and years and years.”

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