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Influential Sports Radio Programmer Tom Bigby Has Passed Away

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

Jason Barrett

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Tom Bigby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports Radio News

Jeremy White: Ryan Fitzpatrick Will Be Shirtless On Amazon Prime Video Tonight

“They start the broadcast, and Fitz is seated at the table, shirtless.”

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Thursday Night Football will feature the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. Last year during the dead of winter, Amazon Prime Video analyst Ryan Fitzpatrick — then just a retired player — was seen in the Buffalo crowd shirtless. WGR morning host Jeremy White believes you’ll see that scene recreated during tonight’s broadcast.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they have Fitz on there talking about his experience in that game, being there shirtless,” White said. “Fitz is on the studio panel with Richard Sherman, Tony Gonzalez, and Andrew Whitworth. Best broadcast in the league. If you haven’t had the chance to see an Amazon Prime game, you get it on channel 7 tonight. I think it is the best broadcast in the league and it’s because the players are fresh out of the league. It’s not constant conversations about how you gotta be careful on fourth down and run the ball.”

“No one on there is afraid to say anything,” Joe DiBiase said, filling in for Howard Simon. “Al Michaels doesn’t feel afraid to say anything, by the way. He criticizes the game almost every week. He might be like ‘Oh thank god, the Bills. Just get me away from the Commanders and the Bears. I’m sick of 13-10.’ The happiest person might be Al Michaels.”

White later said he received a text asking what the odds were that Fitz would be shirtless on the studio set. “They start the broadcast, and Fitz is seated at the table, shirtless,” White said, adding if Adam Schefter was seen shirtless earlier this season during a pregame show then it’s almost a certainty Fitzpatrick will do the same.

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Sports Radio News

Evan Roberts: Boomer Esiason Was Taking Shot at Craig Carton With FS1 Dig

“He said they only put the stuff no one cares about on FS1. And he did it with his Boomer smile where I knew what he was mentioning.”

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WFAN afternoon host Evan Roberts was listening to the station’s morning show, Boomer & Gio, and heard what he believed was a slight towards his current co-host Craig Carton Wednesday from Boomer Esiason.

“I heard Boomer this morning taking some shots at you. I did not like it,” Roberts said. “Did not like it. Big shots at my partner. He made a comment about how FOX puts stuff that no one cares about on FS1. And he meant that directly at you.”

“First off, he wouldn’t say that,” replied Carton.

“He said it. I listened. He said they only put the stuff no one cares about on FS1,” Roberts reiterated. “And he did it with his Boomer smile where I knew what he was mentioning. He wasn’t talking about anything other than his old, dear friend Craig. What a cheap shot.”

Carton, who hosts The Carton Show each weekday morning on FS1, said no one must have been listening to Boomer’s attack because he didn’t get any tweets or emails about it.

“Boomer’s probably listening — because he does listen to us — and he’s probably smiling saying ‘Evan’s right!’,” Roberts said before laughing out loud.

“If he did say it — next time — I’ll just ask a favor,” Carton asked of Esiason. “Reminder your listeners that I am on FS1 from 7:00-9:30 AM, but only until 9:00 AM this week because of World Cup soccer. If you’re gonna take a shot, it allows me to promote it. And I don’t promote it here.”

A caller later told Carton & Roberts the exact moment, down to the minute, of when Esiason made the quip about FS1. Producers then pulled up the clip, which they played on the air.

After hearing the clip, Carton joked FOX puts they stuff they don’t care about on FS2 before asking “Now I gotta figure out, do I respond or not? Or do I just let it go?” before concluding that he’s more mature than making a response.

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Sports Radio News

Fred Toucher Tells Paul Finebaum: Your Greatest Talent Is Not Losing It On Callers

“What you’re actually taught in radio — and not to the benefit of people — is to move things along and cut people off.”

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Paul Finebaum

98.5 The Sports Hub morning show Toucher & Rich has frequently pointed out the absurdity of callers into The Paul Finebaum Show. Thursday morning, the Boston show welcomed in the southern college football host to discuss what makes his show tick.

“I can’t tell you how big a thrill this is for me, because I didn’t realize how funny our show was until I started listening to you guys,” Finebaum joked.

“Part of the brilliance of your show is you just let these people go,” Fred Toucher said. “For those that don’t know, the instinct in what you’re actually taught in radio — and not to the benefit of people — is to move things along and cut people off. At what point did you realize ‘I’m just gonna let these dudes talk and see where they take it’?”

“I listened to all these radio goobs — I mean all these people in the corner office — tell us how to do it and I realized I can’t do that. I didn’t have the radio voice, I didn’t have the style, I didn’t have the energy. So I just sat there and literally listened to callers ramble on and I started to find the humor in it.

“It hit me one day that these people don’t have a voice,” Finebaum continued. “Especially in the south where we don’t have six or seven professional sports franchises. Callers started becoming famous and becoming a part of the show. We started having lunches with them for Christmas and various other things and days and I think we realized what we had and we made the most of it. Some of these callers really defy logic. I think I’ve given four or five eulogies at various callers funerals and I think that there’s a connection there.”

Finebaum then mentioned one of his more notorious callers, Legend. The caller actually spent more than 20 years in prison after shooting someone six times. Toucher said Legend has actually called into their show but they have never taken his call.

“We don’t take Legend because we’re not gonna do as good a job with him,” Toucher said. “I told our producer, I do not want to take Legend.”

“Paul’s a master with him,” Rich Shertenlieb added.

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