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A Conversation with Sarah Spain

Demetri Ravanos

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Sarah Spain seems to be everywhere for ESPN these days, and that’s a good thing. As sports fans’ relationships with the hosts and reporters they follow has changed thanks to social media, Sarah is about as real as it gets.

Her show with Jason Fitz on ESPN Radio is built on long, thoughtful conversations instead of competing hot takes. Her podcast That’s What She Said is a window into her personality, a chance for her listeners to learn who and what Sarah finds interesting. Her writing reminds us all that there is a world beyond sports for anyone involved at any level of the industry.

Speaking as a consumer and sports fan myself, I have always found Sarah very easy to connect to as a viewer. She seems to embody the idea of entertainment over access. That doesn’t mean she isn’t very professional or isn’t good at what she does.

When I see Sarah Spain on TV or hear her voice on the radio, I can always tell that she is showing up with the goal of delivering for her audience. It could be funny. It could be informative. It really doesn’t matter. The point is you are going to be happy you invested time listening to what Sarah Spain had to say.

We spoke about a week and a half ago. She was on her way to the airport, leaving Bristol after a morning on First Take to make it home to Chicago in time for her radio show that evening.

Our conversation focused on the lessons she has learned from her experience in the sports media world, but along the way we made time to talk about Christmas-themed pub crawls, her rap skills and Bobcat Golthwaite.

D: When someone says they recognize you, what is it usually from?

S: Usually Around the Horn because it is visual, but a lot of LeBatard too, especially once I talk. It depends too, because if I am in Chicago it might be a lot of local radio and there are a few that know Spain and Fitz too, but mostly it is Around the Horn because it’s everywhere. You see it in every airport. It’s on at least one TV in every bar.

D: So when you meet someone that isn’t a sports fan, how do you describe what you do at ESPN? Like you said, you’re on everything.

S: If they want a short answer I just say “I’m a host and writer at ESPN.” Then if they ask “For what?” that’s when I’ll get specific with Spain and Fitz and I do a podcast once a week and then I write for espnW and I do some SportsCenter reporting for the Chicago teams. And then, of course, you have to mention Around the Horn twice a week and the LeBatard Show.

D: How does preparing for the radio show differ from podcast preparation?

S: Well, the podcast is really different. The podcast is where I get to talk to people that I find really interesting and explore their journey to how they got to where they are and became successful at what they do. That’s really just looking into the background of who they are and what their career has been like. I read. Sometimes I’ll listen to other podcasts they’ve been on.

For the radio show, you know, that’s mining through the news of the day to find out what we find interesting and decide what kind of conversations we want to have about them. Plus we look at the funny stuff or even the serious stuff that isn’t a major headline that we want to weave into the biggest news of the day.

D: How much of your day is devoted to prep? With a national show, and in particular a national night time show, I would imagine there are times you have to remind yourself to turn it off and spend time with your family.

S: No. I mean, there are days where I am swamped and I am working straight through until I get to show prep, which is an hour and a half before the show. The nice thing about having a regular show is you usually won’t have giant gaps of knowledge that have occurred over the course of one day or one weekend, unless you didn’t watch the game, didn’t read anything about it, and didn’t post anything.

The majority of days, I would say I am a big podcast listener between various activities. If I am going for a workout and it’s not a class where I have to listen, I’ll put on that morning’s Golic and Wingo or Dan (LeBatard) or Will Cain to see what those guys are talking about. I also read a lot of articles when I am in transit or sitting down before we start show prep to get a handle on the things that I am into.

It kind of depends too. If I am doing Around the Horn, that means the day starts with a call at 9:30 and then between getting to the studio, sitting down for makeup, and other prep, I usually only have about 45 minutes before the show meeting starts. On those days, I’ve spent my whole afternoon prepping, so I come into the radio show hot with all the stuff we’ve talked about on the TV show.

When you do a radio show every night until 8 pm, there isn’t a lot of time to get anything done after that. So sometimes that means my morning will be about running errands or taking care of my dogs or something to do with my family. On those days I get creative about how and where I do my prep.

D: On days like that, how much are you leaning on your production staff for radio versus say a day on Around the Horn?

S: Well, Around the Horn is great, because they always have a packet full of stories and stats and interesting did bits, so you can pull out the stats and bits you think are most noteworthy. For radio, our producer puts together a shorter packet that Fitz and I will kind of add stuff to, so it kind of depends. For radio, you know, that more of what we find interesting or what we feel needs to be talked about, where Around the Horn is more about the producers.

When we get on the call (for Around the Horn), we certainly have the ability to say “I don’t think this is a great topic” or “can we tackle this differently?” and the producers listen, but they really are the ones driving the bus. The two are really different in that way.

D: What was your relationship with Jason Fitz like before you started doing a show together? Did you look at him as someone you liked and could be really successful working with, or did management view it as “Here are two people that have been on ESPN Radio. Let’s put them together and see what happens.”?

S: I was doing Izzy and Spain at the time and it was only two hours, and he was filling in a lot for Jalen and Jacoby and that was two hours. A couple of times, I think it was four times, our bosses decided to put the shows together and just do four hours of the shows together. So, that was really the first I had ever even heard of him or knew anything about him.

It was a blast. We had great chemistry together right off the bat. We really hit it off. I found his background super interesting. I liked his approach to things. He’s still really excited about the job and enthusiastic about sports in general. He’s very genuine in his thoughts. Jason isn’t very big on needing to be fabricated or needing to have a take that is going to make people go crazy.

So after that, they were going to change my show, They were looking around for who they were going to pair me with, and I had really enjoyed working with him and Mike Golic, Jr. So I thew out those two names. GoJo was already going to be doing his dad’s stuff, but the radio people really loved Fitz too. They thought he was an up and coming star, and so that was that.

We ended up meeting up in person once. My friends and I were in Nashville for a music festival and I messaged him to say if he and his wife wanted to meet us to go out for the night, that would be awesome. It was really nice to meet him in person and hang out socially. That was really it. We met one more time in Bristol for the photo shoot to promote the show. So we started the show really only having met those two times, but we really just hit it off like gang busters.

We have a ton in common, including really silly stuff. Like, we’re both into costume parties and Christmas pub crawls. I’m having an SNL-themed birthday party this year and his wife had the same kind of party last year. We’re both really obsessed with our dogs.

I like having someone else that comes in with just a lot of energy. We want our show to be thoughtful and fun and not like a lot of other shows.

D: You guys are still hooking up over ISDN, right? You’re not physically in the same space when you’re doing the show.

S: Right. I’m in Chicago and he is in Connecticut.

D: That may not make things harder necessarily, because like you said, you guys already have a raport, but it probably took some feeling out I would guess.

S: Certainly it would be easier to be together in person, but we do use cameras on our computer so we can look at each other and maybe hold up a finger to say “I want to jump in” or “I want to go next”.

Especially with radio from afar, I find that I have a lot of sarcastic asides that I want to get in. I don’t want to take the conversation back. I just have a sarcastic comment I want to get in or I want to make fun of you real fast and we can just keep going. That can be a little easier to do in person, but thankfully Fitz is on to me. He knows that I am just going to make fun of him real fast and let him get back to his point.

D: (Laughing) I have spent so much of my sports radio career as a third mic, where those sarcastic asides are one of my primary roles. It’s funny the way someone who doesn’t quite get your rhythm yet can be thrown off by that, where as I think people like you and me look at those kinds of comments like they are just part of a normal conversation.

S: Right. “Keep going! Of course I am going to make fun of you. I have funny things to say and need to be heard at all times!”

D: I do wonder how the way you prep for your podcast helped you get to know and understand Jason Fitz, because you don’t have to delve too far into his past to realize that it is so different from most people in sports media.

S: Yeah, I actually had him on my podcast pretty early on for that reason. He was so new to sports that I wanted to give listeners that wanted to know who he was the chance to meet him and learn who he is and what led him to this point.

It was important for me too. I think chemistry can come very very quick, but people listening will be able to tell if you really know each other and are friends by the commentary and the jokes. Can they hear that you know each other’s lives? So, it was important to me to have that hour chat and just be able to pick his brain, but also Fitz and I are really open about our personal lives and our friends, so it makes it easier to know thing about each other without really having to pry.

D: With your podcast (That’s What She Said), what is the difference in your preparation for a sports guest versus a non-sports guest? One of the more fun conversations I have heard you have was with Dan Soder, who is a comedian and pretty far removed from the sports world.

S: It’s not very different, to be honest with you. It’s so similar, because I don’t really want to talk to people about the news of the day. I did one with Greg Wyshynski before the hockey season to talk about him just joining ESPN and give everyone a quick primer on what they needed to know to enjoy the season. Usually though, I am not talking about a specific place and time. I want to know about that person and how they got to where they are.

I think as I get to doing second time around pods, I may go back and listen to the first episode I did with that guest to see what I missed or follow up on stories they told before. Right now though, it’s really the same no matter what their job is.

It starts out with who they are, what their childhood was like, the decisions they made that got them to where they are, and if there are larger thematic issues I want to get to, we might do that at the end, but honestly, interviewing these people for the first time, I want to know what brought them to this place in their lives regardless of what that place is.

D: When you first joined ESPN, what did they tell you about wearing your Chicago fandom on your sleeve? Because that, I think, is a huge part of your appeal. It is part of Vn Pelt’s appeal the way he talks about the University of Maryland. What was that conversation like about being a fan versus…I don’t know, being a professional or whatever the word would be they use.

S: It didn’t come up for a little bit actually, because my first gig with ESPN was at ESPN 1000 in Chicago as an update anchor, so that is mostly just straight, although they did tell me they wanted me to add some personality. So that changed my delivery sometimes to something like “Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks with a game six win last night, so hand that golf bag right over to the Sedins” or whatever. So for the most part that was it. My appearances on the station were tinged with bias, as anything is in a local market.

When I joined espnW about 8 or 9 months later, that was less about my fandom and more about the specific assignments of that job. It wasn’t something I ever hid or that they asked me to hide. I think the first conversation I remember having about it was when they called me up and asked me to do some SportsCenter stuff, and that is only when those teams are hot, so the Blackhawks or Bulls playoffs, the Cubs’ run. Even just recently they sent me to cover Loyola.

In that case, I do like to have the conversation of what is my role. I’m not a bureau reporter. I’m not Josina Anderson or Michelle Steele. All I heard was “we want you to be you. We don’t want you to change or be ‘reportery’. We want Sara Spain’s reaction.” And then on top of that it is what is the mood? How does the city feel? What is the vibe?

It’s engrained. People would rather hear it from someone that is living it and gets the vibe rather than someone that is parachuted in to say “Well, Cubs fans seem very nervous.” That just doesn’t feel the same as me saying “Well, there’s a lot of puckering going on, and I’m not going to lie to you. It’s getting pretty real around here.”

That’s the difference in all outlets now, is that there is this understanding for certain jobs. It’s not going to work for Adam Schefter obviously. There is no harm in showing your allegiances, particularly if you can prove that you aren’t going to be too soft on your own squad. Sometimes I am more critical of my own guys and openly disappointed when they aren’t doing things right.

I think the Patrick Kane story is a good example of me getting simultaneously accused of going easy on him because I am a Blackhawks fan and also not giving him a chance to defend himself because I am a woman that has covered sexual assaults in sports. People are going to assume biases in any direction in sports anyway. I think the goal is to be as fair as possible at all times, so that can’t get you on anything genuinely if you’re covering things equally.

D: I started thinking about that a few months back. I live in Raleigh, NC, where Bomani Jones came up doing radio and he and I have been friends for a long time. He told this story on his show one time about the two of us watching the Bama/Texas National Championship game together and he said something on air to the effect that it broke his heart.

I immediately flashed back to being in college and listening to Dan Patrick. I distinctly remember him saying at one point that he was a Cincinnati Reds fan until he started doing this professionally. I think Bomani talking about Texas breaking his heart, you talking about the Cubs is a step more towards what sports radio should be as opposed to that old school demeanor of we wear a suit and tie and have no emotion about the outcome.

That’s not to take anything away from Dan. His show is the reason I wanted to be in sports radio. I guess they way you allow yourself to be a fan feels a little more real and of the time.

S: Yeah, certainly for the sports radio medium, right? I still think there are absolutely elements of sports reporting where there is an appeal to the idea of what you are getting is absolutely unbiased. I think for the beat reporter, and the Schefter’s, and the breaking news people, that makes sense. But I think if you’re going to be a host, I don’t really see the point in trying to hide any fandom if you have it.

Now, I don’t think you need it. Particularly if you are a national host, there is no need to interject your fandom throughout, but if you have it and it’s natural and it’s passionate, it drives conversation in a way that’s interesting. So, why not? People are going to figure it out anyway.

Even someone like Mike Wilbon, who was on back when they were encouraging more neutrality, you know his teams. You know where he went to school. You know where he came up. So trying to hide it would be just kind of silly.

D: So when you’re coming up in sports radio and starting to host shows on a national platform and you’re so closely associated with the Dan LeBatard show, how do you go about trying to carve out your own identity? Because when you’re on that show listeners know you in the Commish role. What was your thinking in trying to trying to establish something different than that for Izzy and Spain or Spain and Fitz?

S: Actually, my first national radio exposure at all was on a weekend show called Spain and Prim.

D: Oh right. And then the Trifecta (alongside Jane McManus and Kate Fagan).

S: Yes, so when I did my first appearance on LeBatard was to discuss Patrick Kane. No, the first one was Mayweather and then maybe Patrick Kane. Maybe Ray Rice was somewhere in the middle. Anyway, it was always these very serious issues I was writing about for espnW.

I think during that time, Dan realized they had never had a woman come in as one of their regular guests and thought that I might be able to go toe to toe with them on some of those issues and give it a shot. So, when they first asked me to come in, I listened to that show occasionally, but I wasn’t a regular listener, and you need to listen to them on the regular, right? It is so of the time.

I walked in that day not knowing what to expect and not really able to keep up. I didn’t even know what The Club (the LeBatard Show’s weekly recap aired in the show’s final segment on Fridays) was. I didn’t know we were on the air when I was asking him to explain it to me.

Radio listeners in Chicago knew me already. Maybe there were regular listeners of Spain and Prim or the Trifecta that knew me already, but LeBatard was huge in terms of getting my voice out.

The Commish thing is funny. It just came out completely organically. It came out of either the second or third time I was on. Stugotz had to eat all the powdered donuts from the Grid of Death (LeBatard’s list of punishments he and his staff must complete for picking games incorrectly during the NFL season). I am a stickler for rules. I always have been, and I think it is a waste to do the grid of death if you are going to chicken out and a waste of people’s time if you are not going follow through.

So I was like “Wait, you’re crumpling the donuts up and brushing the powder off. You’re managing to get away with throwing away donut you should be eating. Keep your hands above the table!” And he was like “Jeez. She’s like the commissioner of the grid.” It sucks a little bit because I guess my personality is a little bit bossy, so it felt like the perfect role.

D: Well, the rap certainly helped.

S: Yeah, the rap took it over the top. It seemed natural to use that as my rap alter ego.

I think what’s very interesting is that there is a lot of feedback on the LeBatard show. It is a community. Dan’s very aware of it. Stu’s very aware of it. The guests are very aware of it, wanting to, as they say, “fit in don’t fit out,” and I got a lot of positive feedback early on. Then the guys that run the LeBatard reddit page asked if I would do an “Ask Me Anything”.

There were certain questions that made it feel like people that I was trying to act like I could be a certain way on that show. I think that was more just, they just weren’t used to hearing a woman be the way that I am. I am just not very stereotypically diminutive in any way.

I like to talk smack. I have a lot of opinions. So, they thought it was sort of fake. I think, and I hope, that most people have figured out that that is just sort of who I am all the time in any context. I think people who listen to me regularly know that’s who I am.

I think you have to be on LeBatard enough times that people can get used to you, because it’s hard for anyone to step in. So, you just do your best to fit in with their vibe and bring whatever you can to it.

I also have always said that I would rather be thoughtful and honest and speak up when I think something is wrong or offensive or even just stupid. You know, some people don’t want to hear opinions that don’t jive with theirs, but sometimes I am going to have those and that’s okay.

D: I would imagine just by virtue of being a woman in sports radio you have to deal with a lot of people that think they know more than you or are confident that you’re putting on an act.

S: Yeah, well what is interesting is the assumptions about me are so varied. It’s either people on Twitter telling to me quit pretending I am watching the game, which is like “What? You think I don’t even watch sports?”. They’ll respond with something like “They’re just going to give you some talking points anyway” and I’m like “That’s not how this works.”

So it’s either to that extreme or people going to the extreme of “Oh you’re not really like that.” And with that, all you can do is genuinely be yourself all the time and hopefully they see that is who this woman really is.

D: Yeah, but even trying to win people over in that way, I would think looking at Twitter must be tiring for you sometimes.

S: Yeah for sure, it can be super exhausting. Other assumptions about women in sports that can be super exhausting are like “you slept your way to the top” or “you’re only in it to meet athletes”. I remember my mom when I first started because they were really off base. Like, they go find a photo of me on vacation from like 15 years ago and be like “you’re always showing your boobs” and in actuality I never am.

Find a photo of me doing my job where you can see them or can even remotely tell I have them. I am constantly hiding them. You found a picture of me on vacation from more than a decade ago. Those are on Google because other people found them and made stupid lists, not because I’m putting that out there.

That happens because people make assumptions about others when they don’t know them. That absolutely happens to every woman with big boobs no matter what. There’s always going to be a whole bunch of assumptions being made just purely based on that.

I get less bothered by people insulting me, like saying something rude, than I do by feeling like I’m misunderstood. If someone wants to be like “you’re fat” or “you’re ugly” you can just think to yourself “oh that person’s not very nice,” whereas if I get “I can’t believe you said x,y,z” and I respond with “No, here’s what I actually said and here is the nuance to it” and they just give up because, frankly they aren’t smart enough to have the argument, that’s what infuriates me.

I shouldn’t be annoyed by some random person, but the fact that they misrepresent what I said because they don’t want to take the time to listen or understand is so annoying. Like just yesterday I was writing some tweets and making jokes about Jemele (Hill) directly to Jemele, and some people who didn’t get the context were asking Jemele “who is this bitch trying to get famous off of you” or telling me “You’re a coward Spain because you deleted what you tweeted.” I had to say “No, no, no. What I retweeted was deleted, so go talk to that person. And I was making fun of the clip! And I’m friends with Jemele. You’re confused!”

I’m more confused by lack of reading comprehension and not understanding sarcasm. I think that is true of most women trying to crack jokes on the internet. I think it has gotten a little better, but there is still that group that thinks “there’s no way she’s making a joke, because a woman wouldn’t get that”.

I remember the rap that I wrote for the Commish bit (on the Dan LeBatard Show) one of the comments I saw was “That was really funny, but there is no way she wrote that. She wouldn’t know all those show references.” What? I’m on the show! Of course I know all the show references!

D: For you it’s not only online though, right? I mean, look, I love sports radio. I love studying and writing about sports radio, but there is this segment of our audience, particularly in the older end, that doesn’t want nuance. The sports radio they like is a bunch of listener calls and have a take and don’t suck. Nuance isn’t something we have always done well in sports radio. So, forgive this term, but I from a radio perspective, I am sure there is a very dumb segment of the audience that you have to fight back against.

S: Tony Reali told me he is going to start muting me when I use the word “nuance.” He has his buzz words that annoy him. He doesn’t like “narrative.” He doesn’t like “optics.” He says “nuance” is going to be one of those words for me now too, because sometimes he’ll ask me a question and I say “Look, the answer isn’t as simple as a yes or no. There’s nuance to it, because it depends on x or y.”

I am still learning. When I first started doing radio I would answer questions with “Well, we’ll see,” and my program director was like “No, that’s not a take,” and I would say “Yeah, but we will see!” and he was like “Nope. That’s not how this works”.

So I’ve learned to have stronger takes, but I am still never going to be one of those people that thinks I’ve gotta pick a side and I have to hammer it home like I’ve never believed anything more in my life if there’s a part of me that thinks there really is some grey area there.

That’s one of the things I really like about my show with Fitz. It’s what I like about LeBatard’s show. It doesn’t feel like anyone is coursing their way through takes. It feels like there is time to have intelligent conversations.

Now look, not everyone is going to like that. Absolutely there are sports fans that just want the yelling. They don’t want to think too hard. I did Second City Improv, the conservatory in LA. They would always say about our improv “Always assume your audience is smart. Make them come up to your level, do not ever think you need to play down because they aren’t going to get this joke.”

I feel that way about sports radio. I think there are plenty of intelligent and smart and thoughtful sports fans who want to hear real conversations and not just back-and-forth yelling on a take. I hope they’re the ones listening, and if there are other that don’t like it, that’s fine. They can find other places to go get their sports.

D: What sort of advice would you give a host about diversifying their media presence? You’re on TV and on the radio and you write and you host a podcast. Let’s take it a little bit at a time for the guys on the local level. What would be the advice you would start with for establishing a podcast presence outside of the radio show?

S: I tell people coming up that they need to be diverse in their skills. Even if you grew up all your life thinking “I want to be a TV person,” well you better still know how to write. You better be willing to give radio a shot. I never thought I wanted to be on the radio and now I love it. It is a huge part of my career.

The writing thing is one of the most important things I tell up and coming people, because texting and social media has turned people’s English into garbage. It’s such a bad representation of you as a professional if you can’t write an email or a letter that comes across as remotely intelligent.

I always tell this story and it is so random, but when I first moved to LA and was trying to be an actor I found this book that was one of those things that you do when you go to LA. You get an agent and you go to Samual French and you get this book.

There was an anecdote in it from Bobcat Golthwaite. Most people I talk to don’t even know who that is. I don’t know how old you are, but do you remember Bobcat Golthwaite?

D: I’m almost 37. Prime Hot to Trot age.

S: Okay perfect. You’re on my level then. I usually have to say “kinda like Pee Wee Herman.” He’s just someone who’s different and weird and doesn’t quite fit in. I can’t think of a modern equivalent, because the way our media has changed, it is full of weird and quirky people, but it didn’t used to be.

Anyway, the point of the anecdote was that there wasn’t anyone in Hollywood going “Man, we really need someone that half wheezes and half talks and his face screws up into this weird look and he never seems to make any sense” and Bobcat Golthwaite walked in and said “here I am!”.

No, he showed up. He was uniquely and strangely himself, and he created a space that no one even knew they needed. Same with Pee Wee Herman, right? No one knew they were looking for that, so he created his space. The advice was don’t try to be a version of what you have already seen. You’ll just be a copycat. Instead, be yourself and if you need to, create a space.

I really took that to heart in my comedy and when I was getting into sports. I took all that I learned in Second City into the sports world, because I thought it didn’t seem like women were allowed to be funny in sports. All they could be was bubbly sideline reporters or serious anchorpeople, and I thought I think there is a place for women to be funny if they know their shit.

That’s my advice. Figure out what it is about you that’s unique. Don’t worry about filling a space that exists. Especially if you want to be diversified, people need to know who you are and what strengths they are getting out of you even in spaces where they may not make the most sense. Stugotz is Stugotz on the radio and he’s Stugotz on SportsCenter.

That’s what was great about ESPN telling me with SportsCenter they wanted me to be me. My first appearance on SportsCenter I said the Bears were a garbage fire. I didn’t say “well, the team is struggling this year”. I was myself. The Bears are a garbage fire.

If that’s not who you are, that’s fine. If you’re someone that prides themselves on being professional and serious, there is a model to follow in Bob Ley, but whatever it is, I think the key is if you want to be on all these different platforms, people need to know what to expect no matter the space or place.

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BSM Writers

Jen Lada Has Built a Multiplatform Presence at ESPN

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about.”

Derek Futterman

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Jen Lada
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

When Jen Lada appeared on Around the Horn earlier in the month, she became the 58th panelist to be part of the program since its launch in 2002. Facing off against three other panelists from around the country, she garnered a victory in her on-air debut and elicited plaudits from her colleagues. Throughout the program, Lada demonstrated her deft sports knowledge and nuanced opinions that have crafted her into a venerated, skilled reporter at the network.

Although she had appeared on many ESPN programs previously, Around the Horn represented a show to which she wanted to contribute for many years. In fact, she has memories of watching the show just out of Marquette University and remarking about its brilliance and ingenuity.

Utilizing reporters with comprehensive knowledge of various sports who have chronicled several events, the show provides them an opportunity to give their opinions on issues and engage in debate with their contemporaries. Lada earned a spot on the show by being persistent, continuing to express her proficiency in commentary and sports discussion. The journey to arrive at this stage of her career, through which she has realized high-level assignments and a presence both at the local and national level, required adaptability and fortitude, and she continues to never take opportunities for granted.

“It’s great that I won, but it just sets the bar really high for the next time I go out there, which is not something I’m afraid of,” Lada said. “I love a challenge, and I love proving to myself that I can keep trying new things and doing new things well, and I hope that if people see me as some sort of example in the industry, that that’s what they walk away with.”

The approach adopted by Lada within her multifarious career ventures is to develop and maintain versatility, always innovating within her approach to content. As she looks to build off her initial victory on Around the Horn, she aims to be more compendious in her discourse and applying a more succinct approach. Making the adjustment in order to deliver compelling, distinctive points quickly differs from her other work, but it is all ultimately centered on sports.

While studying at Marquette University, she observed her classmates having a conversation about the men’s basketball team and what had happened in a recent game. Lada, who at the time was dating a player on the team and cheerleading at games, began to give her thoughts and was subsequently asked if she had ever considered sportscasting.

“I didn’t know that women could be sportscasters,” Lada said. “It wasn’t on my radar as a real career that women held because there were so few of them at the time doing it, and so once I realized that that was something I could do, then I kind of turned all my attention to, ‘Well, how do I make this happen?’”

As Lada began to complete internships and navigate through the media industry, she learned to develop a thick skin and refined her conduct. Out of school, she had completed a year of a non-paid sports internship and was waitressing on the side to pay the bills. The first interview she took for a job at a television station in a top-10 market ended with her being sexually harassed. It was a jarring experience that disappointed Lada because of her propensity to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it also forced her to evaluate her own disposition.

“I think it’s only natural that you wonder how you contributed to the circumstance or what you could have done differently to maybe not put yourself in that space,” Lada said, “but I was very lucky that when I told my family about what had occurred, they very quickly knocked any notion of that out of my head.”

In navigating the industry with good intentions, Lada recognized that it is not her fault if other people fail at treating others professionally and create a misogynistic work environment. Receiving the lesson early in her career has made her more aware of the people to avoid, and she remains wary of advice given to women in the industry that they should just be nice. Lada was recently on a panel where someone advised a broadcast class that being nice would result in things working out for them in the future.

“I felt myself cringing internally because I don’t think that that is a luxury women are afforded,” Lada said. “I don’t think – maybe now is different, but when I was coming up, and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there were people who preyed on niceness. And so the way that I would tweak that is to be professional; to carry yourself in a professional manner and recognize that sometimes being ‘traditionally nice’ puts a target on your back to be mistreated, and the best thing you can do is alert those people who would see you as a target that you’re not going to fall victim to that or you refuse to be victim to that.”

Lada joined ESPN in 2015 where she was hired to contribute to Colin Cowherd’s radio program. When Cowherd left the network and joined FOX Sports on a full-time basis, she started co-hosting a new, national program alongside Jorge Sedano. The show, however, had an evanescent run and left her feeling as if she had failed.

It took her a full year to recognize that she had been involved in a series of circumstances and decided to enact the necessary change, asking producers for advice and attending seminars. One of these was an interviewing course hosted by journalist John Sawatsky where he synthesized the art of the craft. Akin to when she was in college, she overheard in passing that the network needed more women in the features space.

“I was fortunate enough to have done a lot of features during my time in Milwaukee because we had a 9 p.m. newscast that required a local sports feature every night of the week, so between our three-person department, we had to fill that timeslot,” Lada said. “I had done a lot of lengthy sports features in Milwaukee [and] had a good foundation of what that job required.”

The meeting led to Lada doing features on an interim basis at the network and later granted her a spot on College GameDay, where she works as its features reporter. Lada presents stories every week to the audience that go beyond the gameplay and divulge a bigger picture.

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about,” Lada said. “One of the things that has occurred to me over the last few years is just what a skill is required to do that job well because not only are you preparing questions to ensure that you have all of the details and information, you’re also gathering perspective on what they’ve been through – the adversity and the situation that has led them to where they are now.”

Lada recently found herself in a high school classroom at 8 a.m. sitting with other students taking the ACT standardized test. She had to complete the exam as punishment for finishing last in fantasy football at ESPN Milwaukee this past season. After four hours, Lada emerged from the school and revealed her score this past week on the Jen, Gabe, and Chewy morning show. Hosting the local program alongside Gabe Neitzel and Mark Chmura, she has established chemistry over almost four years in the three-person format discussing hyperlocal topics.

“I try to be conversational,” Lada said. “We don’t lean on stats – obviously, we want to be accurate, and we want to be, again, fair to the subjects we’re talking about, but we try to also just be friends who are talking about what’s going on on any given day on the Milwaukee [and] Wisconsin sports scene.”

In balancing a variety of different roles, Lada has tried to master everything that she is doing, refraining from being content with her abilities. Although working in local radio regularly has been a newer role for her, she has grown into the job and has co-hosts who understand the subject matter and allow her to utilize her strengths.

“I just want to keep learning,” Lada said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done, [and] I’m not complacent about the skills I have. I’m always interested in adding more jobs to the résumé, and I think that in this industry, you’re rewarded for versatility.”

Once College GameDay commences, Lada adds the responsibility of feature reporting on that program to her schedule and continues making appearances across additional ESPN programming. Lada hosted the Friday edition of College Football Live last season and has also filled in as a host on shows such as First Take and SportsCenter. Moreover, she continues to complete projects for SC Featured and is working on a documentary for E:60 scheduled to premiere later in the summer. 

Lada aims to keep showcasing her indefatigable work ethic and passion for the craft without slowing down. Whether it is hosting a podcast, taking part in more panels or writing essays, she is open to exploring new forms of disseminating stories.

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience rattling around my brain, [and] I think the next iteration is figuring out a way to continue passing those experiences on to the next generation.” Lada said. “I don’t ever want to gatekeep the secrets of success – I think that’s selfish – so as I continue to do the media work, I think the next phase for me is figuring out how to pass a lot of these lessons on to future broadcasting generations.”

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Local Radio Advertisers Can Become Experts with Hosted Shows and Interviews

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of people talking on the radio

When looking for that extra edge for local radio advertisers, packaging radio commercials with an “expert” client-hosted talk show or interviews on your local shows or newscasts can be a game-changer. This strategy can build long-term business relationships with suitable clients, such as lawyers, business accountants, agents, psychologists, or sports handicappers. These professionals can provide valuable editorial contributions to sports and news stations. Of course, the expert must have good communication skills, be comfortable speaking their mind, and be ready to be the face of the business.

The radio commercials can tout the expertise the person has and give a call to action for listeners to move on. You can often find these experts on social media writing blogs or doing a series of vignettes about their business. For these types of clients, engaging in local radio news interviews or hosting a 1-2 hour talk show can enjoy several advantages:

Visibility and Brand Recognition

Visibility and Brand Recognition: Regular appearances on local radio help the expert become a well-known figure in the community. This visibility can lead to increased recognition and brand awareness and is a much faster track than just blogging on social media. Attorney Bill Handel and his ” Handel on the Law” show have created a directory business for Handel.

Public Trust and Credibility

By sharing their expertise and providing timely insights, the expert can build trust and establish credibility with the audience. Being perceived as an expert can enhance any client’s reputation and create top-of-mind awareness needed to lead business categories.

Client Acquisition

Listeners impressed by the expert’s knowledge and demeanor may seek their services. This exposure can lead to new clients who might not have been reached through other forms of advertising and give credibility to the expert who uses social media.

Community Engagement

Engaging with the local community through radio shows helps experts connect with potential clients more personally. This can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Question and answer segments can lead to deeper connections.

Educational Outreach

The expert can educate the audience on various issues, which can empower the audience. An informed audience is more likely to recognize when they need the expert’s assistance and whom to contact.

Stand Out in a Crowd

Stand out in a crowd: Being active on local radio can set the expert apart from competitors who may not use local radio. Often, the local shows or interview segments are exclusive to the expert.

Immediate Audience Feedback

Interacting with the audience through call-ins or live questions provides immediate feedback and allows the expert to address common concerns directly in real-time. The expert can be of service NOW.

Professional Development

Regularly discussing current topics can keep the expert sharp on trends and issues, contributing to their ongoing professional development.

Networking

Local radio stations often have a vast network of listeners and other professionals. This can open doors to new professional relationships and opportunities for collaboration. The station also provides a loyal audience who typically don’t follow the expert on social media. But they may start to after hearing the expert.

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

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‘We Need To Talk’ is Insightful, Intelligent Conversation on CBS Sports Network

The show is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

John Molori

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A photo of the women who host We Need to Talk on CBS Sports Network
Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports Network

CBS Sports Network’s ‘We Need To Talk‘ features a rotating roundtable of female sportscasters offering their views on a variety of topics in sports. The premise is important. Female voices in sports need to be heard. They bring perspective, weighty conversation, and thoughtfulness to each discussion.

Over the past few years, women have made major strides in being heard and seen in sports media whether it is hosting, commentary, reporting or play-by-play. This is a good trend, but We Need To Talk is about more than just female talking heads. It’s about insight, depth, and needed attention to athletes and sports that do not bask in the mainstream limelight.

This particular episode featured host AJ Ross joined by Summer Sanders, Katrina Adams, and Renee Montgomery. It was an eclectic and accomplished group with Ross, an experienced and versatile reporter, Sanders, the erstwhile U.S. Swimming star and a broadcast veteran, Montgomery, the former WNBA star, activist, and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and Adams, former tennis player, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, and chair of the US Open.

Montgomery got the conversation going looking back on the Celtics winning the NBA Championship. She also made a telling comparison between the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, renewed in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and compared it to the current WNBA rivalry between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. It’s a valid comparison, and Montgomery brought it to life effectively.

The WNBA was up next with Montgomery talking about Cameron Brink, the LA Sparks’ rookie who is making a splash not only on the court, but on the social media and fashion scenes as well.

It should be noted that this episode of We Need To Talk was taped before Brink suffered a season ending torn ACL, but Montgomery’s point was clear. It is not only important to be a great player. Today’s athletes also need to use multimedia platforms to raise their profiles.

Adams segued into a discussion on Wimbledon and No. 2 ranked Coco Gauff. It was good to hear some tennis talk on the airwaves, but this is a hallmark of We Need To Talk. The show makes it a point to move beyond the front-page stories and hit angles and areas that do not get much coverage.

These ladies are not afraid to get in each other’s grills as well. Sanders actually interrupted Adams to start a discussion about the upcoming Paris Olympics, but Adams would not relent and moved forward to an analysis of 2023 Wimbledon men’s singles winner Carlos Alcaraz.

The variety of sports continued with Ross starting a discussion about US track star Sha’Carri Richardson. I’ve been a fan of Ross for a long time. She does an expert job of mixing in her own commentary, while making sure all of the panelists on We Need To Talk get their due time. She’s also multitalented, seamlessly moving from reporter to host to debater.

We Need To Talk takes its roots in diversity with an all-female cast, but there is a deeper variety within the makeup of the cast. Sanders is a longtime veteran of sports, sports broadcasting, and entertainment. Ross is in the prime of her journalistic career. Adams brings perspective as an athlete, administrator, and leader, and Montgomery offers a fresh and contemporary style with her commentary.

Block 2 of the show featured Montgomery and Ross interviewing Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave women’s professional soccer team. Girma was named 2023 US Soccer Women’s Player of the Year, the first defender to ever win that award. This is what We Need To Talk offers those who watch the show. It is almost like a smaller scale, studio version of the classic Wide World of Sports on ABC, “spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport.”

The interview was managed well with Ross asking meaningful questions and Montgomery enthusiastically following up with her thoughts and input. This edition of the program also featured a wonderfully produced feature story on USC basketball player Aaliyah Gayles.

The talented Trojan hoopster was on the fast track to basketball stardom when, in April 2022, she was shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Gayles required two emergency surgeries to save her life.

The pace, video, and sound bites in the package were equal parts frightening, sobering, and uplifting. Gayles literally had to learn how to walk again as the feature focused on her rehabilitation and eventual return to the USC lineup.

Coming back from a break, the panel engaged in a great discussion on the talent link between collegiate and US Olympic athletes. A graphic showed that 75% of Team USA athletes and 82% of United States medalists played an NCAA sport.

As the discussion expanded, Montgomery talked about the fact that in order to enter the WNBA, players have to complete four years of college or be of the age of someone who has completed four years of college. I actually did not know that. We Need To Talk passes my personal litmus test for important sports television, namely, it tells me something I don’t already know.

Bringing still another sport and recognizable female athlete into the fold, Dara Torres joined the show next for an interview. The 12-time Olympic swimming medalist talked about her new role as head coach of the Boston College men’s and women’s swim and dive teams. Sanders asked a solid question about how, as a world-class athlete, Torres will manage her expectations of the BC athletes.

 As sports continues to meld with social issues, so too does the subject matter on We Need To Talk. Ross introduced a segment on the National Gay Flag Football League. Again, kudos go to the show’s production team for a slick and enlightening feature story. Praise should also go to the program itself for expanding the boundaries of sports and opening up a whole new world of knowledge for viewers.

Following the feature story, Montgomery and Adams made a point that sports unite people and bring diverse groups and personalities together as one. Montgomery is a fast-developing on-air talent. Her wit, energy, and knowledge go far beyond the basketball court making her a rising star in sports media.

The program continued to bring sports and life together by connecting the June celebrations of Pride Month and Father’s Day with an emotional poem written by renowned DJ Zeke Thomas, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. This was part of the We Need to Listen segment of the program.

Let’s keep it real. We Need To Talk is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

The show consistently provides uncommon subject matter with an inimitable approach and tenor. Check it out when you get a chance and bring an open mind and a joy of sports. They need to talk, and we all need to hear them talk.

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