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Influential Sports Radio Programmer Tom Bigby Has Passed Away

“Legendary sports radio programmer Tom Bigby has passed away at the age of 77.”

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Tom Bigby

Sports radio has lost one of its most influential programmers. Tom Bigby, who helped Sports Radio WIP in Philadelphia, 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, and 105.3 The Fan in Dallas forge a path to consistent ratings success, passed away on Monday due to apparent heart complications. He is survived by his wife Phyllis, his two children and four grand children. He was 77 years old.

The former VP of Strategic Programming for CBS Radio was an on-air talent before making the move into management. He was seen by many as a trailblazer and dominant personality who believed strongly in the format needing to mix sports talk with guy talk. He also wasn’t afraid to get into it with talent, influence his radio station’s content direction and institute rules for callers. Those who’ve worked for him will point to Bigby’s belief that a caller should not be on the air for more than two-minutes. When that rule was broken, the studio hotline would ring.

In a piece on WIP’s website, a number of Bigby’s former colleagues took time to remember their ex-boss. Howard Eskin referred to the former WIP executive as a ‘character’ who understood what it took to be a good sports talk station but seemed to enjoy being the villain. Eskin went on to credit Bigby for shaping WIP and making it one of the best sports radio brands in America.

WIP stalwarts Rhea Hughes and Glen Macnow also reflected on their memories of their former boss. Hughes shared how grateful she was to Bigby for giving her an opportunity and toughening her up during an era when women weren’t regularly featured in sports radio. She also provided a hilarious tidbit about Angelo Cataldi having it negotiated into his contract that he didn’t have to talk to Bigby, which put her in the middle of having to endure Bigby’s wrath whenever he was frustrated with the morning show.

Macnow meanwhile pointed out that it was Bigby who gave him an opportunity to change careers in 1993 and team up with Jody MacDonald. He called Bigby the most important person in WIP’s history next to Cataldi, and highlighted his ability to find and develop talent. However, he too shared that Bigby enjoyed being a bully and his preference for doing sports talk radio a certain way, though successful, also had its fair share of warts.

Upon learning of Tom’s passing, a number of his former personalities and programmers have taken to social media to offer their condolences and share their favorite Bigby stories. Below are a few we took notice of.

I interacted a number of times over the years with Tom, mostly at conferences and thru social media. He was a frequent reader of BSM and complimentary of a number of the pieces I wrote on programming. He was also helpful sharing insights or additional thoughts on industry issues whenever I had questions related to stories I was working on.

What I appreciated about Tom is that he loved the radio business and had a strong vision for his brands. You could disagree with his approach, but he wasn’t going to change it because it worked. It’s no different than what we see in sports where coaches create an identity for their teams and stick to them win or lose.

What I’ll remember most about Tom in addition to his lengthy track record of success are two personal interactions. First, I was on the verge of starting BSM in 2015, and had written a few pieces for industry folks when he began reaching out. He liked the website and appreciated that I cared about the format’s history and was trying to give it the attention and respect it deserved. He shared a few compliments of my writing and ability to understand programming matters, and to earn that type of praise from one of the format’s best programming minds was very uplifting. I went back today to see how long we had been interacting thru Facebook Messenger and our discussions about radio extend to August 2015, right before BSM was born. So from day one, Tom was in my corner.

The second memorable experience I’ll share came in 2006 when I flew to Detroit to interview for the PD job at 97.1 The Ticket. I was so excited about the opportunity that I started packing boxes and creating my playbook before leaving Missouri. The chance to work with Tom, Debbie Kenyon, Chris Oliviero, Dan Mason, and alongside amazing talent like Mike Valenti, Terry Foster, Doug Karsch, Scott Anderson, Jamie Samuelsen and Mike Stone had a lot of appeal, and I got on that plane convinced my next home address would be in Michigan.

But then I got off the plane and into Tom’s SUV and during the course of a twenty minute ride back to the radio station, he called the hotline three times to tell the producers to drop phone calls that he felt were on the air too long. I kept looking around for a camera, waiting to find out I was on an episode of MTV’s ‘Punk’d’ but none ever appeared.

Then we headed into the building and began talking shop. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Successful programmers win in different ways, and just because you have a different approach doesn’t make it right or wrong. Tom was committed to his approach, and anyone coming in to interview for the position was going to either adapt to his way of doing it or pursue other opportunities.

As Tom and I talked about the vision for The Ticket, it became clear to me that I wasn’t the right fit. He wanted non-stop calls, little production value, no interviews, content focused on very specific topics, and a PD who wasn’t afraid to make their presence felt, especially with sales if they dared enter the studio. Those who’ve worked for me know that I can be demanding, vocal, and I have my own views on shaping content, but Tom managed different than I did. Given his knowledge of the market, staff, and success of the brand, I knew that his formula was working, but I couldn’t see myself managing the same way and Tom knew that too.

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Later that day it became more obvious that although CBS Radio wanted Tom to pass the baton to someone else to run the station, he wasn’t ready to leave. Nor should he have at that time because the brand was producing some of the best results in the entire format. Tom would stick around for another year or two, eventually moving to Dallas, and making way for Jimmy Powers, who has since guided The Ticket to another decade of success.

Though he may be gone from this earth, Tom’s impact on the sports format is permanent. I just hope the man upstairs knows what he signed up for when he called Tom home. The programmer in him is going to have a few demands and suggestions on how to improve the listening experience in heaven. RIP Tom!

Sports Radio News

Kirk Herbstriet Wants To Be Held To Same Standard For NFL As College Football

“Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.”

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The NFL schedule was released last week, and Thursday Night Football has a lot of interesting matchups for its first year on Amazon Prime. It is also a new broadcast booth with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit on the call. 

With Herbstreit now adding Thursday Night Football to College Gameday, he has already started preparing for the upcoming season. Herbstreit was on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and he said he is already at Pro Football Focus in Cincinnati doing his research.

“I’m just trying to lay a foundation,” said Herbstreit. 

Herbstreit told McAfee that whenever anyone asks him to talk about a college team, he can quickly tell them what the DNA of that team is. Now he wants to bring that level of preparation to his NFL broadcasts. He will look at a different matchup every week this summer to get a more detailed idea of what each team is about: 

As for his connection with Al Michaels, Herbstreit mentioned he has gone out to dinner with him a couple of times and he wants to make going out to eat with his broadcast partner a frequent deal.

“Hung out with him 2-3 times. Had a chance just to get to know him. When you go into a new deal, I love like Wednesday night dinner, I want to make a staple and just hang out and get to know him and hopefully he will get to know me. When you do that, it allows you to have natural chemistry.”

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Sports Radio News

Andrew Mason To Succeed John Clayton At 104.3 The Fan

“Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.”

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John Clayton passed away earlier this year. That left 104.3 The Fan without a lead Broncos writer for the 2022 season. On Monday, the station announced that it had hired a successor in Andrew Mason.

Mason comes to The Fan from DNVR, a digital outlet where he provided written and audio content for the last three seasons.

“Mase’s work speaks for itself as one of the market’s most respected analysts when it comes to writing about and discussing the Broncos,” Raj Sharan, The Fan’s program director, said in a press release. “Replacing someone of the legendary stature of John Clayton was not something we took lightly, and we believe Mase is the perfect person to pick up that mantle and bring tremendous credibility and content to our rapidly growing digital platforms.”

Andrew Mason has a lot of credibility with Broncos fans. He has covered the team for 19 years. He has also written a book called Tales from the Denver Broncos Sideline.

The Fan won’t be his first foray into Denver radio either. Mason has previously been a host on Mile High Sports Radio and the defunct KDSP- AM.

“I’m thrilled to join The Fan team and add what I can to the efforts of building Denver’s premier online destination for Denver fans,” said Mason. “Being tasked with replacing a legend like John Clayton is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I’m honored The Fan has entrusted me with this opportunity.”

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Sports Radio News

Gregg Giannotti: ‘Drew Brees Isn’t Used To Not Succeeding’

“He’s succeeded at everything he’s ever done and then he gets into the booth and they kick him out after one year. It’s a tough spot.”

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What does the future hold for Drew Brees? Andrew Marchand reports that he is set to leave NBC. Brees himself says nothing is decided yet.

On Monday morning, Boomer & Gio discussed why the former quarterback is in this position just one year after making his broadcasting debut. Gregg Giannotti noted that if Brees was brought to NBC with the idea that he would eventually be the top game analyst, the criticism he faced last year and the network’s decision to stick with Cris Collinsworth in the Sunday Night Football booth were likely unexpected blows to his ego.

“That’s a tough spot, man, for him,” Gio said. “The guy’s been beloved his whole career. He did go through a little bit of it when people were all over his ass for saying the wrong thing one time, but here he goes. He’s succeeded at everything he’s ever done and then he gets into the booth and they kick him out after one year. It’s a tough spot.”

Boomer Esiason added that the criticism Drew Brees received for his work in the broadcast booth did not apply to his work on Football Night in America or the Sunday Night Football halftime show.

“He was good in the studio,” Boomer Esiason said. “I saw him in the studio and I liked him.”

Brees prefers calling games to work in the studio. According to Marchand’s report, that is what is at the heart of his potential exit from NBC.

The color commentator role may come with more prestige, but it isn’t easy. Esiason has experience with both positions. He calls games on the radio for Westwood One and has been a staple of CBS’s The NFL Today since 2002.

“Some guys are not meant to be game analysts, that’s all.”

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