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T-Bone Found His Groove And Has Been Going Ever Since

“I think, obviously, you have to have some level of talent to do what we do, but I think there are far more talented people than me that for whatever reason, life’s circumstances prevented them from sticking around.”

Rob Taylor

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The hate mail was consistent. Sometimes intense.

It kept coming and coming…for six months, according to Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith, who had the unenviable task of replacing a popular sports host in Columbus, Ohio, named Scott Torgerson, after he was fired for a controversial tweet involving Desmond Howard in October 2012.

Fast forward to the soon-to-be summer of 2021; no more hate mail (at least on that subject), and it’s eight and a half years of success (the ratings back it up) for “Common Man and T-Bone,” the afternoon show that anchors the successful (the ratings back that up, too) 97.1 The Fan.

Common Man and T-Bone and Monster at Kroger Brewers Yard on November 23,  2018 | The Fan 97.1 FM
Courtesy: 97.1 the Fan

Barrett Sports Media scored an interview with “T-Bone,” the “round mound” of Columbus sports radio. It soon became clear that the path to afternoon show stardom was one-third talent, one-third hard work, and one-third “good fortune” for T-Bone.

Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith is a Columbus kid, born-and-raised, who would play basketball outside, then come inside and turn on the radio to hear the Fabulous Sports Babe, Paul Harvey and Dan Patrick, among other radio stars.

“I had always been interested by the idea that you could talk in the microphone and have a bunch of people hear what you had to say,” T-Bone said. He said by the age of 10, he knew he wanted to be on the radio, “some way, somehow.”

In the seventh grade, he listened attentively as a twelfth-grader at his small Liberty Christian Academy school read the morning announcements. That twelfth-grader eventually got a job working at Columbus radio station WUFM 88.7, a Christian rock station. T-Bone followed in the same footsteps. T-Bone started reading the morning announcements as an eleventh-grader, and after high school, he knocked on WUFM’s doors to volunteer on the street team. But the receptionist there had other ideas.

“She said, ‘Do you want to be on air or do you want to do the street team?'” he remembered.  “It’s OK, we’ll train you,” she said, after the 19-year-old radio rookie said he wanted to be on-air but had no experience.

By December 2001, six months after donning the high school cap and gown, T-Bone was on the air. During his six years at the station, he did afternoons, nights, and had a stint as the promotions director, too. He had been attending Ohio State, but exited the school to focus on his on-air work full time at WUFM.

Feeling that the religious format was no longer a good fit, coupled with his desire to do more of a talk-based show, he left WUFM in 2008. With no college degree, T-Bone took a customer service job with BMW (yes, that BMW) Financial Services. He was on the phone, a lot, but he liked to talk, a lot, so…it worked out. Plus, it made him more money than what he was making at WUFM. Still, he yearned for that talk-show style program. So T-Bone started a podcast that focused on his love of soccer. His studio? A spare bedroom in his Columbus-area home.

Turns out, Ivan Lee of 1010 WINS in New York City heard his podcast, and offered to air it on a little-known streaming entity called Chat About It, which no longer exists.

Slowly, T-Bone’s name was getting out there.

He swears he got his next radio job, as an afternoon show producer for Sports WONE-AM (980) in Dayton, Ohio, because he had that Big Apple reference on his resume. T-Bone would drive, each day, from Columbus to Dayton (60 miles) to produce and then later host a sports show. After a year of racking up thousands of frequent driver miles, he left Dayton for good in 2011. And he almost gave up his dream of having a long on-air career in radio for good.

“I told my wife, give me a year to get something better (in radio) and (if not), I’ll get a degree, get a better job, give up on the radio thing,” T-Bone told BSM.

Thankfully, the radio gods didn’t make him wait that long. In September 2011, he heard that WBNS-FM, 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, was looking to hire an afternoon show producer for “Common Man and The Torg,” Mike Ricordati and Scott Torgerson. T-Bone applied, and got the job. He told BSM that he could feel the chemistry between the three sports-crazed men, and that made it all the more difficult for T-Bone when, just five or six months into producing the afternoon show, T-Bone thought about applying to become the host of “The Buckeye Show,” which aired after “Common Man and The Torg.”

“I remember, clear as day,” T-Bone said of his walk with Torgerson to get lunch at Chipotle in the spring of 2012, “I said to Torg, ‘I’m thinking of applying to that because I would like to do on-air stuff, but I wouldn’t do it unless you guys are cool with it because I came here to be your producer.’…He said, ‘Ah, dude, you should definitely do it.’ He was very supportive. Mike was very supportive. Torg even said, ‘Hey, you may not get it, but at least it shows them that you’re interested.'”

T-Bone ended up getting the position. He hosted The Buckeye Show from the summer of 2012 until December of that year, when Ricordati hinted to T-Bone that he wanted T-Bone to become the permanent co-host on the afternoon show, after Torgerson’s dismissal from the station.

January to June of 2013 was a true test of resiliency for T-Bone. He was in the more prominent time slot, paired with the more established host (Ricordati), replacing the popular guy known by one syllable — “Torg.”

Columbus radio host Scott Torgerson fired for controversial tweet

“Scott (Torgerson) is a really interesting guy. I had a different kind of personality that I think took some getting used to for some people and that’s totally understandable,” T-Bone, who considers “Torg” a friend to this day, told BSM. “After six months or so, things settled down…and I was able to find a groove and we’ve been going ever since.”

“Common Man and T-Bone” are a consistent top-three in the Men 25-54 demographic. The two fellers have an all-comers appeal — not too old, not too young…they can get serious about the Buckeyes and then laugh about Nick Castellanos’ antics on the baseball field…the show isn’t fast-paced and cutthroat like many shows in the Northeast, but never puts you to sleep, either. To steal a line from Adult Contemporary Radio, “Common Man and T-Bone” is that show that “everyone at work can agree on.”

“We’re going to pay more attention to the culture and the conversation around the games as opposed to the actual in-game everyday (nuts and bolts),” T-Bone told BSM.

And the conversation that’s created by Ricordati and T-Bone gives the two a chance to show off their similar senses of humor, as T-Bone described it.

The Columbus market has a little bit of everybody. While the Buckeyes are the No. 1 draw, people come from all areas of Ohio and beyond to call Columbus home. T-Bone said after Ohio State, NFL talk is what interests most sports fans in Columbus. It doesn’t have to be just about the Browns or Bengals, though Browns fans are more dominant in Columbus. T-Bone believes the Indians have more fans in Columbus than the Reds these days, though it wasn’t like that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, according to T-Bone, when the Reds were busy going wire-to-wire and winning the 1990 World Series. Columbus sports fans also like to discuss what’s happening with the Blue Jackets and Crew.

Sometimes, Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith walks into the 97.1 The Fan studio and may have to pinch himself. At age 38, he’s living out his dream, hosting a sports radio show, on one of the highest-rated sports stations in the country, in his hometown.

“I think, obviously, you have to have some level of talent to do what we do,” T-Bone told BSM, “but I think there are far more talented people than me that for whatever reason, life’s circumstances prevented them from sticking around. Talent is very important, but I think availability is extremely important. An ability to shake off your bad days is really important because I’ve had a ton of them. Talent matters, but the ability to stick with it is what matters more.”

T-Bone at Harry Buffalo on March 15, 2018 | The Fan 97.1 FM
Courtesy: 97.1 the Fan

T-Bone added this note to aspiring on-air talents: “When an opportunity presents itself, if you’ve done the work, if you’ve prepared, if you have talent, then you can step in and hopefully hit a home run; or a single, if that’s what they’re asking for…just don’t strike out.”

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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