If you follow hoops, especially the NBA, you’re most likely familiar with Chris Haynes. He has worked for ESPN in the past and currently holds high profile roles as Senior NBA Insider for Yahoo Sports and a sideline reporter for TNT. He breaks some of the biggest stories and interviews the NBA’s brightest stars on a regular basis. His attention to detail and ability to connect with people is apparent in the words he speaks and writes.
What makes Chris’ journey so interesting is that he didn’t experience good fortune initially after graduating from Fresno State. He worked as an NBA writer for SLAMonline without getting paid for a year. To make ends meet, he also worked as a security guard at a high school and an apartment complex during the day. Chris didn’t have an easy path. He grinded. That’s what makes his success so rewarding; not just for himself, but also for the people who love and support him like his wife and four daughters.
As a guy who makes his living finding stories and pointing out things that are interesting, the interview below is no exception. Chris mentions many compelling details about the NBA bubble in Orlando. One of Chris’ best observations is how success has a price.
We didn’t have time to trade stories about our radio days in Fresno — like the time we made an on-air bet while calling a high school football game together — but there is enough space for Chris to describe how he wants to be unique.
Mission accomplished, bud.
Brian Noe: How’s bubble life treating you?
Chris Haynes: Obviously this is a unique experience, something unprecedented. When you’ve got 22 teams all housed in one area, three different locations — the place that I’m staying at is the Coronado Springs Resorts. I’m staying at the same resort that the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Raptors, Jazz, Miami Heat, I’m missing a few other teams, there are eight teams here, so I’m staying at the resort that houses them. It’s a pretty cool experience, man. It’s tough for us, the media. We won’t be allowed to bring family members at all, so you have to endure that. But aside from that, man, it’s okay. It seems like things are getting a little better here. I’ve been here since June 29th. I was one of the first ones that got here before the players and before the rest of the media contingent and I’ll be here till the end.
BN: Are you missing your family?
CH: Aww yeah, I miss them like crazy. FaceTime helps a lot. It doesn’t seem like I haven’t seen them in that long, but obviously just the physical presence of them you miss. FaceTime has helped a ton, man. I’ve been able to have dinner with them via FaceTime. I’ve actually gone to sleep with them. My daughters, they want to fall asleep with me on FaceTime. That’s kind of hard because it’s a three-hour gap. They’re in the Bay Area. They’re going to sleep around 9, so it’s 12 o’clock over here. But it’s been cool, man. But I miss them like hell.
BN: Do you expect the feel of the bubble to be a lot different once guests are allowed to be there after the first round?
CH: I think players will be a lot more relaxed. [Laughs] You know what I mean, Noe? There’s going to be a little less tension.
BN: [Laughs] How much tension would you say there is right now?
CH: Hey man, look, it’s been a long time. It’s been a long time for a lot of people. They want their families. They want their wives. They want their girlfriends. That’s human nature. I don’t think I’m saying anything inappropriate. I think that’ll help just to have some sense of norm around the facility and have a familiar face. That’s going to help the situation for sure.
BN: I don’t know if you caught the story; there was a Seahawks rookie who was trying to sneak in a girl.
CH: Yeah, he got cut.
BN: Yeah, has there been anything along those lines in the bubble?
CH: Nah, man. I think that would have gotten out by now. Didn’t she try to dress up like a player or something like that?
BN: Yeah, I guess she was wearing shoulder pads and a helmet.
CH: [Laughs!] See the difference is it would be hard for someone to infiltrate this bubble. They’ve got security right up front. There’s a wristband that you have to scan in order to get to certain spots. She was trying to get into the team hotel. That place is not as secure as it is over here. She didn’t have to get by a search screen like somebody would here. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to get in, but you have to go through so many hurdles just to move around here. I would be shocked if somebody was able to do it and be successful.
BN: Are Disney employees restricted too?
CH: Yeah, even Disney employees, they don’t have access. There are certain wristbands that we have where they can’t come over here. Those Disney workers can’t come on this side. They’re not getting tested over there, so they can’t come over here. Even though we’re in Disney World, we are miles apart and a whole bunch of security checkpoints in between each other.
BN: What’s the testing like now? Is it non-invasive?
CH: Yeah, if it was that one test that everybody was getting done initially where that needle just goes up your nose and goes into your brain, if that was it, I wouldn’t have signed up for this because I’m not getting that done every single day. It’s just a mouth swab and a nasal swab. That’s it. Every day. You get your results within 10 hours. They send you an e-mail. Then before you leave the room you have to take your temperature and an oximeter read. That’s what you have to do every single day. You have to do your temperature and your oximeter read before you leave the room. If you don’t do those and you try to leave and go to another facility, when they scan your wristband, it’ll come up blue. It’ll say you haven’t done your temperature and you have to go back to your room to do that.
BN: As far as your resume goes, if you give your 60-second rundown, how did you get to where you are right now?
CH: You know what, man, you have a big influence on me. I can’t do 60 seconds. I’m sorry, Brian. You probably won’t remember this. When I was working for you as your producer at the Fresno radio station, first of all I didn’t know how to write. I didn’t know anything about writing. I couldn’t write the different there’s, your, you are, you’re, none of that.
Deep into my working tenure, you called me Straw — you said, “Straw, I need you to take over the blog.” I was like “all right.” You told me just update the online blog, the guests we have, and blah blah blah. I’m like all right. How hard can that be?
I did it and the grammar was bad — misspellings, using the wrong word. You know how you are. You let it be known. You were like, “Dude, what are you doing? Are you proofreading this?” [Laughs] I’m getting offended. I’m like “What are you talkin’ about, man? I’m trying my best.” You were like, “Dude, this cannot fly.”
You are one of the biggest inspirations and why I did start to try to take writing more seriously. I felt like if I was going to move up in this field of journalism — even at that time I didn’t plan on being a writer — but I knew in journalism, I have to at least know how to spell correctly. You were one of the big inspirations of having me try to hone in on that.
About a couple of years later, I started taking writing seriously. I ended up writing for free at SLAMonline in Portland. I did some great work for a year. They couldn’t pay me so I was a security guard during the day. I didn’t want to be a security guard, but I couldn’t find a job. I had just graduated at Fresno State and had a degree in kinesiology. I was trying to get a PE teacher job and I couldn’t get a job. The security job was the only thing I could find at that time.
Thankfully I broke a lot of stories in that year and got some significant interviews. Then after that I got offered the beat job for the Portland Trail Blazers at Comcast SportsNet Northwest. I did that for four years. Then I went to cover LeBron when he moved back to Cleveland. I did that for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Then I went to ESPN from there. I’m at Yahoo Sports now and a TNT sideline reporter as well.
BN: What’s your favorite and your least favorite thing about sideline reporting?
CH: My favorite thing is feeling like I’m adding something to the broadcast. I have to be honest with you, when the job was offered, I was a little bit concerned because I didn’t really think much of the role, if that makes any sense. When they offered it to me I was concerned because I’m a real journalist. I’m a real reporter. I didn’t want my work to be diluted. I want to add value. I want to give you behind-the-scenes nuggets. I want to break news on the broadcast. I want to act like I’m actually contributing to this broadcast. I don’t want to say something that everybody has heard the coach say already. I want to be unique. That’s what I like on the broadcast.
Let me say this too, Brian, the job is much harder than what I would have imagined. People will not fully understand, being in an arena packed with fans screaming, and you’re trying to get your report out succinctly with somebody in your ear communicating with you, while fans are just going crazy.
Just trying to keep the flow of the commentary going, while somebody is giving you directions in your ear, while fans are going crazy, as the game is going on in the back, and you have to hurry up and get off the court. There’s a lot that goes on. I have so much respect for the profession and for the role and the value that it brings to a broadcast now. What I said before was just my thoughts initially on what I thought about the sideline role. Looking at it now I see the value in it. I see what people do and I get more fulfillment now knowing a lot more goes into the role.
I can’t say there’s something that I don’t like about it. I’ll say this; a sideline reporter is like Twitter. That’s what it’s like. As a writer, we have a blank canvas. We can make our point with as many words as we want and get it across. On Twitter, you’ve got 140 characters. If you’ve got one tweet and you’re trying to put everything in, well you’ve got to delete some words, and you’ve got to make sure everything is condensed. But at the same time being that it’s condensed, make sure you’re making your point in that tweet. That’s what sideline reporting is like. It’s like Twitter. You’ve got 25-30 seconds to make your point. It seems easy, but it’s a lot easier said than done.
BN: Do you ever — even right now, this would be a great moment — do you reflect back on your start and think, wow man, it’s crazy that this is what’s going on right now?
CH: At times I do, Noe. [What’s up, D? That was Donovan Mitchell.]
BN: [Laughs] See, good example right there.
CH: At times I do, Brian. You knew me when I was on welfare. You’ve seen me at one of the lowest points as a man just trying to come up and raise a family. At that time I was like 24, 25 when I first met you, when I was a producer for you. I still didn’t know my way in life. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. You gave me a start and put me in this field. I remember, that’s funny; you probably don’t remember — I’m just showing you how out of touch I was with the business side of anything — I sent you a résumé. I remember you promoted the producer job on air. I sent you a resume and I believe the background of the resume was like Dwyane Wade.
CH: It just showed you how out of touch I was. To me it made all the sense in the world. I’m applying for a sports job; let me put this little photo of Dwyane Wade in the background. I didn’t know. I was just trying to find my way. I was in Fresno my whole life and most of the people around me were either in jail, they were dead, or they were selling drugs with gangs.
I didn’t have many — outside of my pops — I didn’t have a lot of male figures that I saw prosper in life. I felt like I made it in life if I had an apartment, a job, and a car. I felt like I made it. That was the extent of survival. I felt like that was the extent for me. I didn’t really have ambition beyond that. There were jobs that I didn’t know about that even existed because I was in Fresno my whole life.
Do I reflect? Yeah, at times I reflect, but in this business it’s on to the next. If I break a big story, I get a high off of it, but tomorrow it’s on to the next. Like what’s the next story? I get a big interview. Okay, tomorrow it’s the next thing. And Brian I’ll tell you this, man, this is my 10th year covering the NBA, which is crazy because it doesn’t seem that long at all, but I’ve been working and grinding so hard, and traveling and doing all these things, that my kids have just grown up. I’m like “Damn. What was I doing?” I look at it from that standpoint as well. It’s like f**k, man.
I was so on a mission to prove myself in this industry, to get my family out of poverty, which I did and I’m thankful for that, but I missed a lot too. I’m still missing a lot. Even right now I’m here for three and a half months. I would have missed my oldest daughter going off to college if classes weren’t suspended. That’s kind of the give and take of it.
I can definitely do a lot better spending time with them with the time that I do get. That’s just part of it, man. You would know, Brian, a lot of people in this business — Hold on, B. [What’s up, Rudy? I’m doing all right, man.] Rudy Gobert. I’m just giving you play-by-play, Brian.
CH: Unfortunately for people in these jobs who are in these positions for a long time whether it’s radio, print, TV or whatever, as you know a lot of them, they’re either single or divorced because it’s hard to hold a relationship down. You’ve got to have somebody that’s just understanding, and that’s just going to let you do what you do, and just be satisfied when you bring a paycheck home, or you must have a good work/life balance. Most people aren’t able to balance that out. I’m not saying I can. It’s a struggle.
BN: How much talk was there about the snitch hotline when that was first a thing?
CH: It was just a funny thing. It was the talk for a little bit. Like who’s going to be snitching? Are guys going to be snitching on LeBron? If they see him jumping the fence trying to leave for a little bit? Are they going to snitch on Bron during the playoffs? It was a little things like that.
It’s really died down. Nobody is really telling on each other for the most part. I did report that some of the guys were calling Adam Silver directly at one point and giving him some incidents and violations that were going on. But for the most part, no, most people aren’t worried about it or concerned about it. It definitely was a funny topic among the players when it first came out.
BN: What would happen to you if players found out you called that number?
CH: [Laughs] It’d be a while before I get my next interview. It would be a while. They have the hotline number placed around the campus. It’s just posted on the wall. They have signs all around. So that number is for anybody. I don’t view it as my place to do that. Even though it’s a safety hazard for everybody that’s on campus if there is a violation, but I just don’t view it as my place.
BN: As far as your future goes, is there any particular goal that you have or anything that you would like to experience or accomplish?
CH: That’s a good question, Brian. I should have an answer to that. I should. My wife gets on me about that; thinking about the next step. I’ve been so blessed to do a lot of things that just came to me; opportunities just came to me. I didn’t dream of being a sideline reporter. That was never my goal or my vision. I’m doing it and I like it. I don’t know — hosting a show. I want to start my own media company.
That’s what I want to do; I want to work on doing documentaries. I want to work on doing some films, being part of a production crew, a director or whatever. I want to tell stories in that way. Those are some of the projects that I want to get off the ground and get a production company started. But as far as other roles, I don’t know. I get intrigued with different opportunities that come around that I might not have even thought of. I’m just open to new things.
Meet the Podcasters: Mina Kimes, ESPN
“I think fans are smarter than ever now. Because football is such a big tent, you can find pockets of the audience with every level of knowledge and preference for analysis.”
As 2023 inches towards the finish line, so too does our Meet the Podcasters series. We have spoken with people that found success in the space after so many different journeys. Greg McElroy and Chris Jericho were championship-winning athletes. Mike Francesa and Adam the Bull dominated local radio. Bomani Jones made his name in the digital space. We end on a bonafide sports television superstar in Mina Kimes.
If you don’t believe that, just look at the deal she signed earlier this year. She gets to stay at ESPN and carve out time to work with Meadowlark Media. Those aren’t concessions given to someone their network thinks is easy to replace.
It can be tough to find time to chat as the holidays approach, so the conversation was short, but it covered a lot of ground. Why have analytics caught on with fans? Is it more fun to dissect success or to re-think failure? How do you watch a game when you have to not only understand what is happening, but figure out the best way to turn that explanation into analysis?
Obviously, I want to thank Mina and everyone else that made time to chat with me for this series. A big thank you goes to Point-to-Point Marketing as well for making these features possible. Last, but certainly not least, thanks to all of you that took the time to read even just one of these. I hope you learned a little something that you can take with you into 2024 to make your digital content more successful!
Demetri Ravanos: There is a big audience for what you do best and I sometimes wonder how much that surprises those of us that grew up in the media. Do you think the appetite for analytics and in-depth analysis is relatively new, or was the appetite always there without the right platform before the rise of digital media?
Mina Kimes: I think fans are smarter than ever now. Because football is such a big tent, you can find pockets of the audience with every level of knowledge and preference for analysis, but on the whole it really does seem to me that viewers and listeners are better informed than ever, which I’d attribute to the rise of fantasy football and the proliferation of websites and podcasts that talk about film, cap management, analytics, etc.
We see this trend playing out at NFL Live, where our nerdiest segments often capture a good deal of interest.
DR: What for you is more interesting – explaining why things aren’t as bleak as the performance may suggest (i.e., Bryce Young not having time or protection to really see what he is as a QB) or highlighting what makes the greats so great (Mahomes’ best throws, how Micah Parsons sheds blocks, etc.)?
MK: I love digging into great performances, but the first category is really compelling to me because it forces us to look beyond basic numbers and highlights (or lowlights!). That’s where I think the intersection of film and statistics is so useful – it allows us to dig deeper into tendencies and trends to explain why things are happening.
DR: When you are doing your weekend previews, what information do you prioritize? Is it storylines or is there a number or category that you try to make a staple of your analysis for everything?
MK: Once I’ve settled on which games I want to discuss, there are two things I try to zero in on: The strengths and weaknesses of each team, and how they match up.
I also make note of things I’ve observed recently (for example, if a team is leaning on a certain personnel group or formation) and then consider how it might impact the game.
DR: What about in setting those topics and discussions up? How do you watch and re-watch games, plays and moments to best understand what it is you are seeing and find the point you want to bring to the audience?
MK: When I’m watching the weekend’s games on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I’m looking for interesting (good or bad!) plays, tendencies, and trends. For example, if I notice a QB is having success targeting a specific area of the field, I’ll make note of a few plays, grab the numbers later, and then, when I’m podcasting, consider how that might play out next week.
DR: One of the big differences between podcasts and legacy media is that people listening to podcasts are actively choosing you and the topic you are talking about. Does that change the way you can discuss a game or a player versus on TV?
MK: I’d say the biggest difference isn’t topic selection, but time. On TV we only have a segment or less to hit on a matchup, whereas on my podcast, I’m often talking about the same games and players, but I have 15 minutes instead of five (and I’m one of two people chatting instead of four or five).
I will add that the topic selection process at NFL Live is very collaborative, though. We know which games we need to focus on, but the way we approach discussion is driven by our interests and observations.
DR: I am always interested in the different views on this. Podcast listeners overwhelmingly say they like video now. Is that a preference you understand or does it not make sense to you?
MK: It makes sense! Because the production quality has improved so much (the kind folks at Omaha Productions have been working with me to improve the look of my show for YouTube), many podcasts really don’t look very different from sports television.
If you’re already a listener, why wouldn’t you want to watch as well, especially since you have a convenient viewing device in your hand all day? I do think there will always be people who just listen, though, because their free time for consumption is relegated to commuting (or in my case, walking a dog!).
To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
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.