Some sports talk shows act like you stepped inside the octagon with them as they seek surrender via hot-take submission. Other shows like “3HL” on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Tennessee take a different approach. One of the goals Brent Dougherty, Mickey Ryan, and Dawn Davenport have is to talk with the people, not at them. It’s a refreshing approach that helps the show continuously thrive.
Southern hospitality is a phrase that isn’t always applied correctly. The expression is absolutely valid though when describing “3HL.” I could feel it when I sat down with the cast. You can hear it when listening to their show. It doesn’t mean the trio has a shortage of strong opinions. They just present their views in a way that invites a conversation while keeping the vibe positive and welcoming.
It wouldn’t make sense to root against this approach. It’s nice when the good guys (and girl) win, and when a show that “gets it” happens to be cranking out monster ratings in the process. Check out more on their philosophies and unique career paths below. Find out which host interned for another, the early days of speeding in a Ford Escort station wagon, and doing a show with a meat salesman.
Brian Noe: How long have you had this new trio?
Dawn: August 15th, I think. So not very long. It’s been like six months.
Brent: We broke ground on this version of “3HL” in August.
Dawn: It is just at our six-month mark. We should’ve partied. We made it. We haven’t killed each other.
Noe: What do you think has been the biggest improvement during those six months?
Brent: I don’t know? Have we gotten better?
Dawn: Oh, from day one of me joining? Oh yeah!
Dawn: I hope so.
Mickey: I think it’s just more learning each other’s personalities. Brent and I have known each other for over 20 years. He was my intern when I was a television anchor in the ‘90’s in Kentucky. He knows there are certain things he can say and exactly how I’ll react. We’re kind of learning what’s a hot-button topic for Dawn that you can say something and you know what kind of reaction — and she’s learning the same thing about us. To me that’s the biggest thing is just getting to know each other’s personalities.
Brent: But like a week ago, we finished each other’s sentences a couple of times.
Dawn: And it was completely random to where during the break at one point I looked at him and I go, “How the hell did you know I was going to say that?” You like pulled it out of nowhere.
Brent: It’s been fun and Dawn brings a lot to the table too from a female perspective. That’s rare in this country. It’s awesome because we’ve known her for a long time and she’s got that TV background. We watched her on television [WKRN]. We already knew each other when we hit the ground and Dawn joined “3HL.” I feel like we hit the ground running because of that and because I watched everyday, so I already knew kind of what your mannerisms were. I think that helped.
Noe: How would you explain the differences between having a guy and a girl in that chair?
Brent: Man, that’s a good question. I don’t even view it that way. Honestly, she was a collegiate athlete and her entire background in this business is in sports outside of — well, you did the one show.
Dawn: Outside of slummin’ it in morning show news.
Brent: But even the way that y’all did that morning show — it was kind of the way that we do this show. Even though that was news and this was sports. In terms of entertainment, to me it was basically the same.
Dawn: It was less scripted and personality-driven.
Brent: But in terms of having a different vibe of having a woman in the chair in the room — there really isn’t one to me because she’s such a big sports fan and entertainment fan. She’s a really good communicator — that’s what you need — and a good entertainer. That’s the other thing to me.
Mickey: It does give our show perspective though if there’s a case where there’s a sexual assault. If there’s something that involves a female point of view. Instead of us saying, “Well, here’s what we think” or “This is what I read that somebody said,” you actually can get the female point of view, which to me is huge for us because she can break down any sport, but at the same time she can also say, “Hey, as a woman” — like we were talking about the US Olympic hockey team. They had no benefits, were making no money, and when we talked about them winning a gold medal for the first time in 20 years you said, “No no, they’re champions for women’s rights.” You went through all the things that they had done to make things better for the future generation of women’s hockey players. I think that gives us really an opportunity to offer a viewpoint on things that how many shows in the country even have? Very few.
Noe: Dawn, sometimes I’ll hear a female host, and it’s like they’re just trying so hard to prove they know their stuff. Others feel very comfortable and you come across that way — not going over the top. Where does that come from?
Dawn: I think it comes from being around sports for so long. The minute I graduated college I was doing local TV sports. In local TV sports, you do everything on your own. There’s nobody there to help you or hold your hand so you have to know your stuff because you are your producer. You’re your writer. You’re your shooter.
I’ve been around sports doing it for so long. I think that’s where that comfort comes from. Also, because I’ve been in this town for so long, and I started as a weekend sports anchor, so I’m fortunate that I know the history of the teams here. I can pull from, “Oh, hey do you remember back in 2008 this team did that,” so I think from that standpoint I’m comfortable because I do know what we’re talking about so well. Then, when I work with SEC Network I’m very knowledgeable about it because that’s what I do.
I’m also fortunate that the people in this town from the minute I got here welcomed me in and accepted me. I’ve never felt the need to prove that, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about. I can talk sports. I promise.” I feel like this town was very open to having a female in the sports world and that’s helped me because I haven’t had to go overboard to try and prove myself because people have accepted it.
Noe: What type of role does Program Director, Brad Willis play in your show’s maturation? Is he very hands on or does he let you guys work things out?
Brent: His goal with us always has been — ‘cause we’ve made changes with this show before — he’s more into letting things grow and develop. With the three of us, have it grow organically, and that’s kind of where we are with it.
Dawn: Which I think has been great. Instead of him pushing, “Hey, you need to talk more, you need to do this.”
Brent: Yeah, he treats us like professionals. I’ve been doing this for 21 years. We’ve all been doing this so long that you just take some time to know and learn and understand where he can go, where she can go, where I can go. It just kind of organically happens. He’s been completely hands off. Now, if we have questions about something that we’re doing or trying, he’s always available.
Mickey: I think the key for him is he’s there for a resource, but he wants the show to happen organically. It’s like, “Look, if you have something unique, come to me and let’s work it out,” but on a day-to-day basis it’s, “You guys are all three professionals. I hired you to be professionals. Do what you do.”
That was when I joined the show, which is a little over three years ago, after a couple of weeks he pulled me in an said, “I brought you in to talk. So talk. Just give your opinion on things. You don’t have to work your way in.” It was the same thing with Dawn. We told her, “Hey, just give your opinion. You don’t have to be tentative or anything like that. You just jump in. We’re all here to be equal. To have equal time to have equal opinions, so you just jump right in. Don’t feel like you have to warm up to us. Just jump in.”
Noe: How much have you had to deal with comparisons to previous hosts like Clay Travis and Blaine Bishop? Does that happen a lot?
Mickey: When you follow a personality like Clay, obviously there are going to be people who compare things. I’ve gotten to know Clay since I’ve moved to town and we get along great. Anytime I see him we always catch up and kind of talk about how things are going. He’s been great to get to know and it’s been a lot of fun to see all the stuff that he’s accomplishing on a national level.
There were some people who were really unkind in the beginning especially. There’s still a handful of people out there who are hanging onto it. My thing was I just had to be myself. If you like that, you like it. Maybe the nicest thing that people have said to me over the last 3+ years is, “I wanted to hate you, but once I listened to you, I realized I liked you. I thought when the show changed I would hate the show, and hey, I don’t hate you. Matter of fact I kinda like you.”
Literally people have said things like that to me, so I’m winning that way. But I know the dynamic of the show changed. It did. I think it’s okay to like him and like what he does. I think it’s okay to like me and like the current version of the show. That’s all I would ask anybody for the chance to.
Noe: Has there been anything that gets under your skin or you just go home and are like, “Man, I would’ve been better off not receiving that message”?
Dawn: Well, if you work in broadcasting, especially sports broadcasting, you’re always going to get a message where you’re like, “Yeah, well.” (sarcastic laugh)
Mickey: Well, and you [Dawn] were on TV — and women to other women who were on TV — you wouldn’t believe the things about your dress or your hair.
Dawn: Let me tell you, morning news viewer complaints are the worst thing I’ve ever endured in my life. Nothing that any sports person can ever say to me will ever upset me as much as some of the females and Facebook messages I got during morning news.
Brent: Social media is a wild place.
Dawn: It’s a different world nowadays — even from when I first started in the business. If somebody didn’t like you, you got a phone call or a hand-written letter. Now, it’s different because people immediately can facelessly tell you that they don’t like you, but this town is pretty good honestly. You’re always going to have people that don’t agree with what you say.
Mickey: But the feedback is overwhelmingly more positive than negative. But you can say, “I like donuts,” and you have some overwhelmingly negative responses to that. That’s just the world that we live in.
Brent: We live in a world where people just love to hate things. You see that on social media, but doing what we do as she said, we all have a thick skin. You have to or you won’t have success in this business anyway aside from some hater on social media. We don’t pay attention to it necessarily. To get to where we are, you’ve got to be confident in yourself. Sure, we try new things and sometimes we make mistakes and we’re harder on ourselves than anybody could be that listens. I think some mean guy on Twitter or whatever, I think that’s more about him than it is me.
Noe: How much does your role differ from a three-person to a two-person show just in terms of driving it? Not repeating one of their takes or sacrificing your own opinion to just move it forward. Does it differ greatly between the two?
Brent: I look at my job as a facilitator — almost like a scoring point guard. I’m trying to set him up with stuff and her up with stuff, but also trying to take my shot. The way I kind of visualize it in the moment — because I’m watching break time and how long is the break coming up? When do we need to hit that break? Who’s got a live spot coming? What caller needs to go next? I’m trying to balance all of those things while also throwing topics and throwing opinions. To me it’s a fun challenge. The way I visualize that is I’m going down a river with currents and I’m just trying to keep the boat as straight as possible. That doesn’t change whether it’s two or three people.
Noe: Is there anything specific to Nashville regarding topics that surprisingly work? Where you feel like, “Really? That’s what you guys are interested in?”
Brent: It’s kind of meat and potatoes honestly.
Dawn: Daily, there’s something that I’m like, “Wow, people really want to talk about that.”
Brent: Has it been a surprise to you? So, we get out of football and now it’s crazy topics that you can bring up. The response to some of those crazy topics I think surprises you sometimes.
Dawn: Yeah, it really surprises me and when we first started to go on kind of like tangents that had to do with sports but weren’t maybe necessarily specific SEC football talk, I would get nervous over there in the chair. I’m like, “Why are we not talking sports? We gotta go back to talking sports.” They’re like, “Relax. We’ve got a long show. It’s okay. It’s how it works.”
I think what surprised me the most — and I had been on the show with you guys before a couple of times, just sat in for an hour or two hours — what surprised me is some of the random topics that people want to talk about that maybe aren’t necessarily completely sports.
Brent: Here’s an example — yesterday we were talking about the Olympics and the US women had won the gold medal. I watched it. I stayed up and I thought it was the moment of the Olympics. I thought it was awesome. I thought that would get a little bit of traction. These guys started talking about the cross country race, which I didn’t even see. The next thing we know, Mickey finds the audio. We play the play-by-play and it’s one of the best sports calls ever. We go 45 minutes with people calling in about how awesome that was.
Mickey: The one guy said they were three wide like NASCAR and he was in the middle of the night watching it at his house. He felt like he raced the race with them. He felt like he sent them enough America to push them through. People get so emotionally invested in the Olympics ‘cause that’s your flag. That’s your country. They’re representing all of us. Your college football team represents your state or your region, but this is everybody. That was one of the most passionate phone calls we’ve ever had from anybody about anything.
Dawn: Talking about women’s cross country skiing. Like who cares, you know?
Brent: ‘Cause the basics are you’ve got to talk about the Titans every day in this market. You have to. When they suck, they get a 20 share on television. Over the last year and a half the Predators have risen to one of the better teams in the NHL so you need to spend a little time on them. Even though, as good as they are, their regular-season TV numbers are like a tenth of what the Titans are. We pay attention to those things. So it’s Titans, NFL, SEC, college football, and then whatever crazy stories you can find.
Noe: How do you guys balance the local stuff that you know is going to hit, with something that might go beyond Nashville that you know is still going to matter to people?
Mickey: Honestly, you can just look and see at what people are talking about on social media. To me that’s a huge metric because we all certainly follow people in this market and we have people that give us feedback — “Hey, did you guys see this? Do you guys know about that?”
Brent: That helps with what we do. Social media, that changed the game because now you can talk about things immediately as they happen. When I got into the business it was the mid-‘90’s. You didn’t have any of this. We weren’t monitoring these things.
You can get a tweet that pops up — I remember one show we were doing, and we were going to do some Preds guest or something and the Manti Te’o story came out on Deadspin. We sent one of our guys out of the studio to read it because it was so long. One segment went by and he was back in there and we were talking about it. That’s how fast things go and we bailed on the guest. We try to be as current as possible and talk about what people are talking about.
Noe: In terms of things being current — topics move so fast and have a short shelf life — a Vols football game on Saturday, of course you’re going to talk about it on Monday, but how do you have that sense of, “This is a little old. It’s not what people are talking about now”?
Brent: 100% you think about that. You’ve got to figure out a different way to present it. Ask questions because people definitely still want to talk about that. SEC football season? You want to talk about that every day. Like every day.
Dawn: I feel like football transcends that thought. You can talk about a game that happened two weeks ago and people are still interested.
Brent: But you would present it differently in the afternoon than you would on Sunday morning where Jamal Lewis ran for 225 yards. Stuff like that. You’re thinking about different ways to present it.
Mickey: By that time you’ll have different ways where you may analyze it and look at it or maybe what it means more for what’s going to happen ahead of time. This market is just so funny. It’s such a football-centric market. Let’s say we came on today and we talked about Ole Miss football. Vols fan – he’s interested in that. Mississippi State fan — she’s okay with that.
SEC fans, you can talk about any other school or program and they’re okay with that ‘cause they want to know what they’re doing too, right? To me that’s the most interesting thing maybe about living in an SEC-centric market is it doesn’t matter what team or what program or what coach you talk about, there’s just an unbelievable level of interest by every team and every program’s fans about another team’s fans and program.
Dawn: We also have so many alums from all of those schools.
Mickey: It used to be they all moved to Atlanta and Brent says they’re coming here now.
Brent: This is the SEC melting pot. Just downtown condos — this is where the young people that are graduating college in this area are coming. They’re not going to Atlanta. They’re coming to Nashville. This city is growing and the vibe is different and awesome. It’s really exciting.
Noe: When you have high ratings and Brad Willis comes to you with a major lineup change, how do you react to that?
Brent: The first question is who is going to be on the show with us, right? Then when you find out it’s Dawn Davenport, I have zero concern whatsoever. I know that we’re going to keep rockin’ because I know how competitive she is and that’s what I want. I want somebody that’s going to win every day. She’s got that track record. From my perspective I wasn’t concerned at all. I was excited.
Noe: How about you, Dawn? When you’re going into the mix and they’re getting monstrous ratings, do you feel any extra pressure?
Mickey: No pressure.
Dawn: Yeah, no pressure at all.
Brent: You can relate to that too Mickey.
Mickey: Yeah, no pressure.
Dawn: Radio ratings are different obviously than TV ratings. I got them every day on the morning show.
Brent: And we don’t get them that often. She would ask and I’m like, “I don’t know.” (laughs)
Dawn: I’d ask, “How are we doing? Are we doing okay?” Brad would say, “Oh, we’re doing great!” I’m like, “Okay, well can I see? Do you have numbers from last week or whatever?” I had to learn how it actually worked. I was definitely nervous stepping into a successful show and replacing a former athlete [Blaine Bishop] that people really valued his opinion. I was definitely worried about it, but I had listened to the show enough to know that I felt like it would be a good fit and that we would be okay.
Noe: Do you have a TV background at all, Brent?
Mickey: You were my intern for one semester.
Brent: Yeah, I needed one class to graduate at UT, the University of Tennessee, and I needed to do an internship. Living here and I was hanging out in Bowling Green. I had some friends at Western Kentucky. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to do an internship, I might as well do TV. I might as well go to WBKO,” which is in Bowling Green — the ABC affiliate there. So, I just knocked on the door and he can tell you more about it, but I just knocked on the door and got that internship.
We went all over South Central Kentucky on Friday nights covering high school football and it was awesome. There were a couple of things that happened along the way where I was like, “I don’t want to do TV.” (laughs) “I don’t want to do TV.” Because you work all day — there is a rush during the news when the stuff you’ve been working on all day is going, but things that you can’t control happen.
Mickey: He saw a couple of times where we went out and shot seven games and brought the tapes back and the tapes got out of order and you didn’t know what highlight you were doing. He saw things like that. Or the tape machine would fail or the teleprompter would go out. We don’t have a tape machine or a teleprompter. They just turn on the microphones and we talk.
Dawn didn’t really know the story — it was either a Saturday or a Sunday night. We had a 5 o’clock news — I was the weekend sports anchor at WBKO. The weatherman walks out. He comes back in and he goes, “There’s some kid outside in the parking lot that wants to ask to be your intern.” I go out and it was that kid right there.
So, it’s been over 20 years ago in the fall of 1996. I come out and here’s Brent Dougherty. He says, “Man, I wanna be your intern.” He starts explaining things and I said, “Look, man, that’s fine. You can just be my intern.” We had great chemistry and we drove a Ford Escort station wagon for several thousand miles that fall covering games.
Brent: At 100 miles an hour.
Mickey: Years later, I wind up moving to Nashville to pursue music. I got out of TV. I just came here and wanted to play music.
Dawn: He’s a heck of a bass player by the way.
Mickey: Well, I like to think so. (laughter) I’ve played 12th & Porter, 3rd and Lindsley. I’ve played in Europe and all over the US. I’ve got a couple albums on iTunes, but you know, no big deal. (laughter) I was driving down Interstate 65. This is a true story. I had my radio on scan. I was scanning FM stations after recently moving to town. I went to hit another button and I hit a bump, and I switched my radio to AM and he was on 1510 AM. It was him talking!
I don’t think I even had a cell phone at this point. I drove to my apartment and called the radio station and left him a message. We had lost touch with each other. He was producing a show for a couple of heavy hitters in town. He said, “They’re going to let me do a show on Saturday. You should come and do it with me.” So for years, I managed a real estate office and played music and I would go on Saturday and do a radio show with Brent and another guy named Russ Berrie, who’s a meat salesman. The three of us did a Saturday show for years and years before we both wound up coming over here to The Zone.
Brent: We used to joke about Russ, he was slingin’ his meat all over the southeast. (laughs) He’s a good dude, that guy.
Mickey: He sells ham. Yeah, great guy.
Brent: Man, you went into the long story like Noe’s writing a book or something. The history of us. This is us and no one’s crying.
Noe: Dawn, these two have known each other for 20 years — is it ever weird where two people know each other so well and you’re trying to learn them as you go?
Dawn: I don’t think so. I haven’t felt that at all.
Mickey: And you don’t get our Fletch references though. That’s the one thing.
Brent: The whole key to knowing us is really simple: watch Fletch. It’s the key to life and to understanding making a friend.
Dawn: The good thing, I knew them prior. Especially you [Brent], I’ve known you since I moved here and we’d run into each other at events and I’ve hopped on their radio show a million times. That’s the good thing. We’ve hung out outside of work too. I’m on a daily text with your wife right now [Mickey]. (laughs) So, I feel like I kind of jumped right in. Obviously I haven’t known them for 20 years, but from that standpoint, have really gotten to know them and I know their families.
Noe: Is there anything from the TV world that translates very well to sports radio and things that just don’t fit whatsoever?
Dawn: Well, the don’t fit is I panicked when I first started. In TV, this block is six minutes and 40 seconds, and you’ve got to hit six minutes and 40 seconds so you can hit clicks and do all of that, and everything is scripted. At least for the morning show, for what I did the last five years, everything is in there. It might not all be scripted — there’s a lot of adlib, but for the most part it’s super organized. You know exactly what you’re talking about, and when, and you know exactly what’s coming.
With sports talk radio? When I started I was like, “So, we’re not going to script out every single segment and know exactly when we’re going to talk about what?” And they’re like, “No, because if somebody calls in and some subject gets going, we’ll stick with that.” I was like, “Okay?” It took me awhile to be okay with — not necessarily spontaneity, but kind of — like a lack of specific, everything is timed out.
Brent: And it’s funny, in my course of doing this job I love the freedom to be spontaneous. I love that. It leads you down a creative space that really is unlike anything else that you could do in this business. I love that part of it. I knew from doing this — after having TV people come in and do an hour every so often, they always would say that, like, “Man, that’s so much fun because I’ve got like two and a half minutes to do my sports and that’s what it is. Here’s the script. I never really have time to give my opinion. It’s really not that kind of place to give your opinion.”
Dawn: That’s where I’ve had to grow because I wasn’t allowed to give my opinion at all. Then as a sideline reporter you have 15-20 seconds to do your report. It’s not an opinion-based job. That was something coming in I’ve really had to work on — learning that it’s okay for me to give my opinion now because you can’t in news.
I think the plus of doing news — especially that morning news show that I was part of — there was a lot of adlibbing. There was a lot of personality conversation and that has lent well to stepping into this job because it’s basically what we did, especially in the 4am hour. It’s what I did for five years really. This is just a different level.
Brent: Early on she would ask me during a break, “Did you know you were going to go into Tennessee-Vanderbilt basketball right there?” And I would say, “No, but that microphone is on, and I’m talking, and that’s what came out.” She’s like, “Okay.”
Dawn: In the beginning, it took me awhile to be okay with it.
Brent: Yeah, and I think that’s part of the organic transition and I think we’re there now. But I learned from her to be a little more structured in terms of what we do.
Noe: Did you do anything to try to draw out more opinions because they weren’t used to it?
Brent: I didn’t really have to necessarily, but she has this notebook of stuff that she keeps. She’s got like, I don’t know, eight-nine pages for today. She knows what the topics are because we kind of text during the day. There’s going to be stuff that we all see that we haven’t communicated to each other. It’s almost better that way to me because then you get more into that spontaneous reaction from Mickey about women’s curling or whatever.
There’s a lot of that, but when I do that — I’ve jumped out of an airplane and I’m flying through the air. I’m going from topic to topic in my head and I go into something — I know that she has researched it and has some notes jotted down. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I’ll talk long enough to let you flip through your papers to get to that topic. It’s a growth process.
Noe: Do you find it more challenging in the heart of football season to hit on everything you want to get in there, or is it now where it’s a lot slower? Which is more challenging?
Brent: Challenging might not be the word, it’s just different. I have fun in — I love football, it’s my favorite thing — but doing what we do, I actually think I have more fun in the non-football area because of the random things that we can talk about. We’re a Nashville show. We love the city of Nashville. We’re going to talk about things that happen in Nashville. It’s not necessarily going to be sports-related.
If I walk over to the Tin Roof and sit down and talk with people, if there’s 100 people in there, what percentage of people just want to talk about sports? That’s all they’re interested in. Four? We think of it in terms of, hopefully, entertaining people every day. We have no fear at all, in fact we love doing it — going off topic. That infuriates stick-to-sports guy, but I don’t care.
Mickey: Four percent of the guys who want only sports. They get infuriated.
Brent: This time of year is really, really fun to me. For example today, we’ve got this college basketball corruption scandal and that’s going to be a healthy part of the show, but we also have one of the top-20 tennis players in the world coming on. We’ve got one of the best hockey players in the world coming on. Guests kind of dictate topics with us.
Noe: In terms of the goals you have for the show, does anything change that mindset when you’ve gone thru lineup changes?
Brent: For me, no. My job is to help our clients grow their business. From there it’s to entertain the guy that’s at a job that he hates, is having an awful day, and is in his car for 45 minutes and wants to be entertained. He wants an escape from whatever it is he’s dealing with and everybody’s dealing with something. Those are the two things I think about. As long as it’s a room full of creative people that like to have fun, I’m good.
Mickey: When we were driving around 21 years ago in that Escort station wagon, I used to tell him, “Look, here’s my goal; I’m going to put as many people’s kids on TV tonight as I can. We’re going to spray the crowd. We’re going to have the band. We’ll have an establishing shot of the cheerleaders and I want to put as many people’s kids and grandkids and neighbors and friends on TV as I can, to give more people a reason to watch.”
Brent: I’ve always thought about that too. I remember him saying that and that really stuck out to me. I think about that all the time.
Mickey: When you go out and you’re in the grocery store and you’re the TV person and they go, “You had my nephew on the other night,” and I say, “Oh, did he score a touchdown?” And she said, “No, you just said how cool he looked. He was the tuba player,” and I’m like, “Oh, I remember him.” But that meant the same thing to her as the kid who scored the touchdown that won the game. That’s her nephew or friend or son or grandson or whatever. To me that was so powerful to do that.
When we go out and people tell us, “Life is going this way and there’s some bad things happening, but I’ll tell you what, I know when I’m in the car listening to you guys, I can forget about it.” That’s the greatest, to me, thing that anybody can say about what we do is you helped me forget my problems for an hour or for 30 minutes, or gosh there are some people who are going to listen to the whole show I guess on their computer at work.
Brent: God love ‘em.
Mickey: Yeah, those are special people, but for somebody to say, “Man, I’m going through this terrible thing, but I know I’ve got a refuge for X amount of time with you guys every day.” That’s one of the main reasons that we do what we do. We love doing it, but we love the interaction with people and knowing that you can actually help somebody have a better day, forget something bad that’s going on in their life.
Even if we come in and things aren’t great for us, we still think, “Gosh, there’s a whole lot of people listening — they have bigger problems, they have bigger things they’re dealing with than we do, not that we’re immune to dealing with things, but let’s just get together. Let’s entertain them. Let’s enlighten them. Let’s tell them what’s going on in the sports world. Let’s have a few laughs. Let’s give them a little kind of place they can go for four hours a day.”
Noe: Do you think hosts lose track of that where it’s “I want to be a hot-take guy” and it gets too far away from wanting to entertain people?
Brent: Yeah, but everybody has to be themselves and this is who we are, and I love it. I’m so blessed to have been able to do this on this radio station. 104.5 The Zone is one of the best radio stations in the country. I am so blessed to have been able to work with four of the most talented radio people that I could ever be around. I’m so happy with the team we have here with Mickey and Dawn. I’m looking forward to the next however long y’all want to do this. 50 years? 60?
Dawn: Time to retire. (laughing) Seriously this guy, they were like, “Oh, you guys want Presidents’ Day off?” I’m like, “Oh yeah, let’s take it off.” They’re like, “Oh, well are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want to work?” I’m like, “What is wrong with you? I love my job, but you guys are not normal.”
Brent: I mean there’s flame-thrower guy out there, that’s not me. That’s not what we do. That’s not who we are.
Dawn: We don’t have the hot-take, piss-you-off, be-mean-to-you-kind-of person really. Unless you really push our buttons.
Mickey: The angry Chihuahua. One of the first conversations we ever had was let’s just pretend like we’re in a sports bar talking to our friends. Let’s talk to people. We’ve always tried to talk with people and not at people.
Brent: There are times when everybody gets riled up. It’s an opinionated business. We’re paid to have an opinion. That’s the reality of the situation, but I think we’re more into building people up.
Michelle Smallmon Didn’t Stumble Into Mornings on ESPN Radio
“The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”
It all started with an accident. While vacuuming her apartment just two days before the first episode of her new national ESPN Radio program, Michelle Smallmon tripped over an air purifier cord. As a result of the maladroit blunder, she fell face first into her coffee table and hit the inside of her eye on a drinking glass.
When Smallmon looked into the mirror, she immediately saw that her eye was bleeding and swelling up and was in a state of disbelief, although she was not surprised that this happened to her because of her inherent clumsiness. The black eye that came out of all of this turned out to be an advantageous opportunity for the program, which opened its first hour on the air with this circumstance.
Smallmon works alongside Evan Cohen and Chris Canty weekday mornings on UnSportsmanLike, the new ESPN Radio morning show that leads off a refreshed national programming lineup. Since the program is also simulcast on ESPN2, there are cameras on inside the radio studio at the Seaport District-based radio studio, granting viewers of the premiere episode an opportunity to see Smallmon’s black eye for themselves. The incident, however, provided a means for the new hosting trio to introduce themselves and showcase their personalities in an atypical fashion by recalling a calamitous occurrence from the onset.
“We have to be ourselves,” Smallmon said. “People are coming for the sports, and hopefully with our opinions and our information and the knowledge that we provide, they’ll stick around, but they’re going to remember us for who we are. The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”
Once the hosts of UnSportsmanLike were finalized, Smallmon met with Canty and Cohen to determine their collective philosophy for the program. At the crux of their conversation was how sports is supposed to be an enjoyable part of people’s days, making it important to be genuine with the audience and celebrate the festivities.
“I just think that audio provides a really great way for people to weave us throughout their day and it’s something that they can come back to, and I just feel like the audio space continues to grow,” Smallmon said. “So that is really exciting to me that there are so many different avenues for us to explore in the audio space.”
Smallmon and her colleagues understand that their program that was once anchored by Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg in the mornings for 18 years, who created a show that proved to be an enduring facet to sports radio as a whole. Today, UnSportsmanLike is competing for mindshare and attention span in a dynamic media ecosystem where people can consume various types of content by equipping myriad methodologies. The mission to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere requires the hosts engage in deft preparation and fealty towards the audio vertical, never taking their positions for granted and understanding the privilege in being able to communicate en masse on the air.
“Any time anybody elects to listen to you, they are giving you a vote,” Smallmon said. “They’re choosing you [and] they are saying, ‘I want to spend a part of my precious time with you,’ and particularly in the mornings because we’re the first people that get the opportunity to talk about the games from the night before or to give our opinion on certain things.”
While Smallmon may have stumbled into an enthralling storyline to open the program and captivate the audience, she did just the opposite in landing a spot within the coveted morning drive daypart. Through years of indefatigable persistence and calculated risk-taking, she positioned herself to garner such a chance when the network was in the midst of developing a new lineup.
Despite having a successful morning show in St. Louis, Mo. on 101 ESPN that was finishing with high ratings and bolstering streams of revenue, Smallmon found herself yearning to live in a sprawling metropolis. Because of this, she started visiting her friends in New York City once per month and gradually became enamored with the locale, prompting her to meet with co-host Randy Karraker, program director Tommy Mattern and Hubbard Radio market manager John Kijowski to express her intent to leave the station.
“They have always been my biggest champions [and] they encouraged me every step of the way,” Smallmon said. “They were like, ‘This is going to be a tough transition for us because the show’s going so well, but we care about you as a person more than we do an employee, and if this is your dream and something you think you have to do, we’ve got your back.’ I will always and forever be indebted to them for not only finding a way to help me do that, but for supporting me and checking in with me every step of the way.”
When she was young, Smallmon frequently traveled to St. Louis with her father to attend sporting events, cherishing every chance she could to see a live game. Throughout her childhood, she watched football on television and remembers seeing sideline reporter Melissa Stark interview the players, prompting her to think about working in sports. Quotidian tasks were transformed into beacons of flourishing sports knowledge, catalyzed by her father’s creativity with abecedarian activities such as sorting and folding laundry.
Yet Smallmon concentrated in premedical studies at the University of Illinois, matriculating to try and become a dermatologist. Early on, she realized that she was not dedicated enough to pursue a profession in the field, resulting in a meeting with her advisor about her future plans. Upon being asked her ideal career path, Smallmon demonstrated interest in covering the basketball team with the goal of appearing on College GameDay as a features reporter in the future.
Amid an economic crash, Smallmon was able to land a job as a production assistant at KSDK, a local television station with which she had interned as a college student. Smallmon worked on the outlet’s morning show, Today in St. Louis, arriving at the studios around 3:30 a.m. every day to prepare and execute the broadcast.
Although her shift ended at 2 p.m., she would put in extra effort to stay later and interact with sportscaster Frank Cusamano and sports director Rene Knott, volunteering her time and trying to be productive. In displaying her aspiration to work in sports, she was eventually offered a position in the department, which first started with shooting and editing high school events.
“Most of the work that was done in sports was leading up to the 5 and 6 o’clock newscast until they took a big break before 10 p.m.,” Smallmon said. “I would use that time to just absorb as much as I could, watch the guys at work and try to make myself useful.”
Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned Stark, Smallmon had seen various women working and thriving in sports television; however, this was not the case in the sports radio format. Despite being familiar with the medium, she had never considered going on the air until Knott asked her to be a co-host of his new weekend show on 101 ESPN.
After some time, she received a note from an executive inquiring if she would be interested in applying for an open producer position available at the outlet. Even though she applied thinking she would not receive the job – a thought compounded when she discovered the producer role was for the program hosted by Bernie Miklasz – Smallmon made it to the final round of interviews. Speaking with Miklasz directly, he articulated that while he thought she was a good fit for the role, the other candidate had more qualifications and previous experience.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, if that person is as great as you say that they are and have this much experience, they will have no problem finding another job when you hire me to be your producer,’” Smallmon averred. “I left there and I was like, ‘Man, I blew that.’”
Much to her surprise, Smallmon was hired and ended up working with Miklasz in the role for three years. In speaking with him and observing how he interacted with other people, she learned industry nuances and esoterica that made her even more adept at the role. Smallmon was eventually moved to The Fast Lane in the afternoons with Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr and Brad Thompson, possessing a mentality of how to best position the show for sustained growth and success.
Smallmon took her skills to ESPN Radio in 2015 when she moved to Bristol, Conn. to work as a producer. The first stint with the network prepared her to excel on UnSportsmanLike, collaborating with hosts such as Ryen Russillo, Danny Kannel and Jorge Sedano, but she always felt a magnetic pull back towards St. Louis. Once Russillo was officially slated to leave ESPN, Smallmon was in talks with the company about different paths she could take and weighing her options. In the eleventh hour, Smallmon received a fortuitous call from Miklasz, who conveyed that he was thinking about changing up his show and wanted to know if she had any interest in co-hosting the program.
“It just felt like all of the cards were falling into place at the right time for me to make that move, and I’m a person that likes to take chances and challenge myself, and I don’t ever want to live with regrets,” Smallmon said. “I thought, ‘Maybe hosting and being on the air is not going to be for me; maybe it’s always going to be production, but I’d like to know.’”
Once she returned, Miklasz offered to change the name of the program to incorporate Smallmon, an entreaty that she declined because of fear that it would disrupt what was a known entity to listeners in the locale. Upon his exit from the station two years later, Smallmon started hosting with Randy Karraker, who implored her to add her name. Even though she never sought out to find the spotlight, she capitulated to the request once her co-host explained why it was important as not only an identifying factor, but also as the first female to be a full-time host on the station.
“I would hear from so many female sports fans across the area and parents whose daughters listened to the show and whose daughters paid attention to the show because someone who looked like them occupied that seat,” Smallmon said. “I really realized how important it was for me to establish myself in that way.”
As Smallmon made the move from St. Louis to New York City, her parents surmised she was recklessly upending her life. Subletting an apartment from a mutual friend in the city, she was working under a usages deal at ESPN Radio where she would deliver overnight updates and host SportsCenter All Night. Smallmon was grateful for the support of her parents and asked them to give her a year, during which she would work hard to land a full-time job in the city. Three hundred and sixty-six days later, Smallmon took to the air with a black eye to commence UnSportsmanLike, officially meeting her end of the bargain.
“It’s hard to explain to people how strange our job is,” Smallmon said. “The three of us sit in a windowless room and talk to one another for four-plus hours a day, so just by nature of spending that much intimate time with someone, you get to know them really well really fast.”
The workday for the morning episode begins the day prior several hours after the conclusion of the previous broadcast, independently reading articles, following sports news and reviewing games. In the preceding afternoon, the program holds a content call where everyone pitches ideas before an early rundown is sent out and added to throughout the day.
While the game of the night is on, Smallmon is in constant communication with her thoughts before getting sleep and preparing for an early wake-up call. There is a pre-show meeting to review the rundown before the four-hour morning show begins at 6 a.m. As soon as the on-air light is extinguished, the process starts again so the hosts are ready for it to illuminate again in 20 hours.
“It’s really a full-time commitment, especially during football season, to do a job like this,” Smallmon said, “but when you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to host a show of this magnitude, you’ve kind of got to make it your life in a lot of ways.”
When she takes her seat behind the microphone in the morning, Smallmon believes that two of the most talented people she has ever worked with are sitting by her side. In her view, she needs to be at the same level as them on the program and effectuates that through her preparation and by bringing different perspectives to the air.
“I have zigged and zagged and occupied different roles throughout my time,” Smallmon said. “It’s really just been surprising opportunities that I have emerged and that I’ve really been grateful to have and that I want to take advantage of, but I don’t really think about the future and my motivation is not really driven by what’s next; it’s driven by the present.
For now, Smallmon is focused on attaining success in New York City and hopes to participate in the program for as long as possible. Down the road though, she knows that her career will entail a second return to St. Louis when she wants to be back in the community she loves and closer to her family. The gratitude she has in being able to regard the city as home is conspicuous and authentic, and those in the locale continue to listen to her on 101 ESPN for two hours each morning ahead of the station’s local morning program.
“My only goal right now is to make UnSportsmanLike the best show that it possibly can be, and if that is the case, hopefully we have an amazing run with the show,” Smallmon said. “That’s the goal is to make it as amazing as it possibly can be and ride that wave for as long as we possibly can.”
Smallmon never envisioned herself working in radio but now finds herself as a trusted voice in the mornings on a simulcast program within the network’s on-air lineup. Through it all, she has remained true to herself while exhibiting an evident commitment and passion for the craft, valuing every chance she has to go on the air.
“People will always say things to me like, ‘Oh, are you going to be the next Erin Andrews?,’ or things of that nature,” Smallmon explained. “And I say, ‘No, I’m going to be the first and only Michelle Smallmon,’ because the edge that I have over everybody else is that I’m me. There’s nobody else that’s me, and so if I can just be myself and be authentic every day and do that, anybody else can.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Desmond Howard Unnecessarily Threw Pete Thamel Under the Bus on College GameDay
College football fans can be a crazy bunch, most of them are crazy in the sense they are doing stupid things that give you a good laugh but, every fan base has a lunatic fringe. Each fan base is more than willing to point out the lunatic fringe in the fanbase of their rivals but often are slow to acknowledge their own offenders. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist in any program that has any significant fanbase. The lunatic fringe affected College GameDay Saturday, and Desmond Howard didn’t help the situation.
As a fan, you can accept it as true or bury your head and assume you are the one singular program that has somehow avoided having a fringe lunacy.
Michigan is certainly a significant football program with a massive fanbase. Just the sheer number of Michigan fans tells you there is going to be a larger than normal number of fans that might fall into the category of “fringe lunatic”, it is just how the odds work.
That suggestion was made by ESPN during Saturday’s College GameDay which originated from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Just in case you are completely unaware of the biggest story in college football this season, during Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh was serving the final game of an agreed upon Big Ten Conference suspension. The game also happened to be the biggest game of the season so far, a virtual play-in game for the College Football Playoff.
The suspension of Harbaugh was the result of allegations that Michigan staffer Connor Stalions was running an “off the books” sign stealing operation and that Stalions was a little too closely connected with Harbaugh for the Big Ten’s comfort.
Stories like these only become mainstream by reporting and ESPN’s Pete Thamel was on the frontlines of that reporting. It should be said that, just because something is reported by ESPN, FOX, or CBS, doesn’t automatically make it true. Likewise, just because something reported about your team may not paint them in the best possible light, it doesn’t make it untrue. That was the gray area ESPN’s College GameDay found themselves in Saturday; one of their top college football reporters in the very midst of the fans that are upset with his reporting.
Thamel joins GameDay on site every week, normally delivering the breaking news on injuries and coaching changes, fairly normal stuff. He delivers his reports, not on stage, but among the actual team fans who are gathered behind the set for all the cameras to see.
Except Saturday when Thamel was not among the masses but inside the more controlled confines of Michigan Stadium.
Honestly, Thamel being inside the stadium, rather than among the crowd, would not have seemed at all odd to me until Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winner and GameDay analyst Desmond Howard made it awkward in this exchange:
Howard: “We’ve been doing this 12, 13 weeks and Pete’s always been in the crowd giving his reports, I’m like, ‘What the Hell’s Pete in the stadium for?’ That kind of just threw me all off, I’m like, ‘Put your big boy pants on and do it in the crowd like you normally do it.’”
Rece Davis: “He’s got some from the lunatic fringe, some ‘friends’. We’re just taking care of him.”
Howard: “We’ve got security. We’ll be ok. These guys are nice out here. These are nice fans. They’re not going to do anything.”
Davis: “It only takes one. That’s all.”
Howard: “He’ll be ok. Put the big boy pants on.”
I have no idea how many credible threats Thamel has received but there was, apparently, enough concern for ESPN to move him into an area that could be more easily secured.
Desmond Howard, though, seemed upset that ESPN doing that painted the fan base of his old school in a very negative light. I would make the case that even the most ardent GameDay viewers wouldn’t think it odd that Thamel was inside the stadium rather than among the crowd. Howard’s insistence on Pete not wearing his “big boy pants” only drew further attention to the fact Thamel was not in his normal spot.
Desmond Howard came off sounding like he was under some sort of pressure, personally created or applied from Michigan interests, to point out there was no reason Thamel should have any concern about Michigan fans. In doing so, Howard came off as something he’s never been accused of being, a poor teammate. The best way to handle the situation for ESPN would be to completely ignore the fact there was a change in Thamel’s location. In the event ESPN thinks anyone would notice, highly unlikely as it may be, just create a simple cover story.
To Thamel’s credit, he seemed content to not be the focus of this addition to the story, it was only Howard’s awkward interaction that brought it to light. It was completely unnecessary and only made everyone involved look a little worse.
In his NFL career, Desmond Howard averaged only one fumble per season, Saturday in Ann Arbor, he added another.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Nick Wright, Danny Parkins, Andrew Fillipponi and Omar Raja Join The 2024 BSM Summit Lineup
All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.
The buildup to the 2024 BSM Summit continues with our next speakers announcement. Media professionals looking to attend March’s show can secure seats at BSMSummit.com. We’ve already announced Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Don Martin, Bruce Gilbert, Scott Sutherland, Chris Oliviero, Scott Shapiro, Spike Eskin, Mitch Rosen, Paul Mason, Bonnie Bernstein and Damon Amendolara will be part of the event. We’ll have additional big names to reveal in the weeks and months ahead too so stay tuned for more.
Before I get into the latest group of speakers, I want to pass along some Barrett Media news.
First, when you log on to BSM and BNM on Monday December 4th, you’ll notice both sites operating with a new, cleaner look. We pump out a lot of daily content on our websites but finding all of it can be intimidating. We’re hoping the modifications make it easier to find and digest our content and look forward to your feedback on what we roll out next week.
Secondly, I’ve spent months going through a process to identify an Executive Editor for Barrett Media. The type of leader I’ve been looking for different from what exists at some online publications. I’ve spoken to a lot of smart, talented people during this process, many who I know could make us better. However, there is only one job available. Fortunately after going through an extensive search, I’ve identified someone who I’m interested in teaming with to help take Barrett Media to the next level. I hope to announce that hire and the addition of a number of new writers next week. I think our readers, partners and clients will like what’s on the horizon.
Third, we have opened up voting on the Barrett News Media Top 20 of 2023. The deadline to cast votes for News/Talk PD’s is next Monday December 4th. We will present the News/Talk radio format’s collective feedback December 11-15 and December 18 on BarrettNewsMedia.com.
There’s other stuff on the way as well, but I’ll save the rest for next week. Let’s dive now into the latest additions to the Summit.
It is my pleasure to announce the additions of Nick Wright of FS1, Danny Parkins of 670 The Score in Chicago, Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and Omar Raja of ESPN to the 2024 BSM Summit speaker lineup. All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.
Starting with Omar Raja, the work he did building House of Highlights into a powerhouse social brand is well documented. He now serves as a commentator for ESPN’s digital and social content, which includes being the leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account, and providing strategic social programming across ESPN’s social platforms. It’s not every day industry professionals gain an opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top social media minds, so I’m hoping to see a lot of folks present when he shares his wisdom at the Summit.
Shifting from digital to on-air talent, one session I know many will be present for will include three personalities who have been highly successful in each of their careers, and share a lifelong bond through the friendships they formed while attending Syracuse University together. Nick Wright, Andrew Fillipponi, and Danny Parkins are three of the best in the business today, and all three will be on stage together to discuss their individual paths, their differing approaches to content creation, measuring and managing success, and much more. Having Damon Amendolara, another Syracuse graduate who’s been highly successful on the air, guide the session should make it even more interesting and entertaining for all in the room.
With these latest four individuals added to the lineup we’ve now secured sixteen top speakers for March’s show. I’m hoping to reveal the next group of participants in a few weeks. Once we get past the holidays I’ll start revealing the awards winners and a few executives who will be part of the conference.
I want to thank Steve Stone Voiceovers, Good Karma Brands, Bonneville International, Silver Tribe Media, Premiere Networks and the Motor Racing Network for returning as sponsors of the 2024 BSM Summit. If your group would like to explore a sponsorship opportunity for the show or review website or newsletter options for 2024, email Stephanie Eads at [email protected] to receive a copy of our advertising decks.
That’s the latest for now. More to come in December.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].