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Remembering Tom Bigby by Craig Carton

Bigby had created the concept of Guy Talk Radio that is now the norm in every major city in America. WFAN had created successful Sports Talk Radio and Mike and The Mad Dog are its unquestioned first stars, but WIP created and perfected the concept of guy talk/sports talk radio that is the present and future of the medium.

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Remembering Tom Bigby

The following piece has been written by WFAN afternoon host Craig Carton. You can follow him on Twitter @CraigCartonLive or listen to him on WFAN.com.

A legend passed away on Monday and outside of Philadelphia his name doesn’t mean a thing, but to the millions of people who listen to and digest sports talk radio in this country, he might just be the singular most important person to ever work at a sports talk radio station. His name is Tom Bigby, and in 1992 he was put in charge of a small 5,000 watt AM radio station with no ratings, no discernible future, and bad hourly brokered programming. Nearly 30 years later, WIP Radio remains a force in local sports radio broadcasting, spawning countless more sports/guy talk stations from coast to coast, and it never would have happened if not for the shear will, doggedness and bullying style of Tom Bigby.   

I got to the station in the spring of 1993 to host nights and weekends with Garry “G” Cobb. Angelo Cataldi was doing mornings with Al Morganti and Tony Bruno, Jody McDonald and Chuck Cooperstein were doing middays, Steve Fredericks and Mike Missanelli had afternoons. About a month into my hiring we had the only all hands on deck staff meeting that I believe the station ever had. Every host was told to meet in a conference room at 1:00 and to this day I have no idea who was on the air to cover for the fact that every full time host was in the room. Bigby began to lay out his vision for what would make WIP not just successful but dominant. Phone calls, lots of phone calls none of them more than two minutes long and even better if they didn’t last a minute. He showed us that he had installed in the studio, the producer’s room and his own office a countdown timer with red, yellow and green lights on top. The green light lit up at the start of the call, the yellow light lit at 90 seconds, and dare you ever allow the caller to go 2 minutes the red light lit and if he saw it he would hang up on the caller from his own office. He had the station engineers rig it so he could not only hang up on a call himself but he could listen in to hear how the producers screened every call – he was a micro manager on steroids and we all grew to hate him for it.   

At one point in the meeting Chuck Cooperstein raised his hand and said to the room and Bigby that if Texas was suddenly the #1 ranked team in college football that it was a story and we should want to talk to their head coach. Bigby told Chuck to shut up and then went off on him in one of the most demeaning and disrespectful rants I’ve ever heard, calling him the worst talk show host he had ever hired and that keeping him on the station was an act of charity.  

It wasn’t long before Chuck was gone and Glen Macnow replaced him to work with Jody in middays. Bigby’s belief that guests killed ratings and that nobody wants to hear anything other than Eagles talk year round has been well documented in Philly, but it was his belief that in creating a talk show for men you should talk about all the things that men talk about not just sports – so that meant movies, women, drinking, and ultimately for WIP – the single most successful radio promotion of all time Wing Bowl. 

Bigby then installed a green hotline button on the phone console so that whenever he called in to berate you for something you had said or done on the air you knew he was calling because the green light started to flash. There were times he would call the number just to remind you that he might be listening and to keep you on your toes. He led the station by being an overbearing bully, and it worked. 

I was there at Club Egypt on Delaware avenue for the 2nd Wing Bowl, and I remember standing near the back of the stage with about 500 people crammed into the club. Bigby came up to me and told me to take note of who was there standing in line to get in before 6AM and to recognize that those people are “your audience and never be swayed by anyone who tells you that they aren’t.” My radio career changed that day as I came to understand the audience a whole lot better and how it’s far more important to deliver radio that your core audience loves and not to cater to or try to deliver content to the people who don’t like or get what you do. As Bigby would say, “Fuck them, anyone who cares enough to tell you that they hate you is listening to you.” 

Bigby had created the concept of Guy Talk Radio that is now the norm in every major city in America. WFAN had created successful Sports Talk Radio and Mike and The Mad Dog are its unquestioned first stars, but WIP created and perfected the concept of guy talk/sports talk radio that is the present and future of the medium. 

When I got the information that Norman Braman had agreed to sell the Eagles to Jeffrie Lurie I went to Bigby with it and before he would let me break the story he had me sit with Cataldi, a former respected newspaper journalist, to go over what I had and if it passed the smell test. In those conversations I learned the importance of how to break a big story and maximize the effects of such an opportunity for overall station success.  When I was being threatened with a lawsuit from The Flyers over a report that Eric Lindross had missed a game for being hungover, it was Bigby who publicly defended me and my story, and privately put me through the ringer to confirm the validity of the story. He was a brow beating task master at his best but in holding you accountable for everything you did and said on his radio station, he made me and everyone else who ever worked there infinitely better at what we do. 

Bigby had a sense of humor too. I would have to endure early morning phone calls form him yelling at me and demanding to know what I had said on his radio station the night before only to let me sweat for a few minutes before telling me he was just kidding and hadn’t even heard the show. I was in Dallas getting ready to do an Eagles pre-game show from my hotel room because Infinity Broadcasting at the time didn’t have a station for me to broadcast from in Dallas. Two minutes before I went on the air there was a knock at my door. It was Bigby dressed in his typical all black Johnny Cash clothing, and as I opened up the show, he started jumping up and down on my bed trying to distract me. The sight of a 400 pound Bigby bouncing up and down on my bed was for sure distracting. After 5 minutes he said ‘have a good show’ and walked out. Afterwards he called me to invite me to have brunch with him and his wife in the hotel restaurant, and he dead panned to me that he thought I had a good show but seemed a little distracted during my open and that I should work on being more prepared for future shows and then he never mentioned it again. 

I left WIP in 1997 to pursue an opportunity to be syndicated and frankly because I was upset that I had not been given a better time slot after 4 years of doing nights. Three years later I was in Denver doing mornings at KBPI when Bigby called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do middays. The timing was interesting as I had just started at KBPI, my wife was pregnant and we were contemplating a move back to the East Coast.  The ratings came out and for the first time in my life I was the #1 ranked morning drive host in a major market. One week later I resigned to move back to Philly thinking I was going to do middays at WIP and when I got there Bigby didn’t give me the job. He concocted some convoluted story of how the midday show just got decent numbers and he felt he owed it to them to give them another ratings period to grow. He instead offered me a job to host the Monday night Brian Mitchell show for $200 a show and all the part time work I wanted. Truth be told I was moving back to Philly anyway but I was reminded of how ruthless Bigby could be and I would be again one more time. 

In the Fall of 2001, I was doing mornings at WNEW when the station hired Bigby to be a consultant. His first big decision was to fire and replace me with Scott Ferrall. This was the day after the station holiday party which he insisted I go to so that we could all enjoy each others company a few months after the horror of the 9-11 attacks on our city and country. 

The last time I saw Tom was at a radio convention that I had been asked to speak at. I didn’t know that he would be there and when I caught sight of him I was eager to rub it in his nose that Boomer and I were #1 in the ratings on WFAN but before I could he grabbed me and gave me a huge bear hug and told me how proud he was of me. While I’m not sure if I believed him, it meant the world to me because his opinion and blessing was something I yearned for since the day I met him in March of 1993. 

Tom should be credited with creating the blue print of how to successfully program a radio station for men, young and old, and how to connect with the community and tap into the passion of the local fans without apology. I hated Tom, but I would have never had anything close to the career success I have been so fortunate to enjoy over the last 15 years if not for him. He may or may not be missed by the hundreds of hosts who worked for him but his legacy lives on in every city in America.

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Barrett Media Hires Jeff Lynn to Spearhead Music Radio Coverage

“Adding Jeff to our editorial team to spearhead our music radio coverage is important for building brand identity and trust across the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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Barrett Media is expanding its content focus starting on Monday July 15, 2024. I announced these plans on May 6, 2024. Since then, I’ve had many conversations to identify the right person to bring our vision to life. Music radio will be our first addition. Coverage of tech and podcasting will come next.

Making sure we’ve got our finger on the pulse of the music radio business is the first step. With over 11,000 stations nationwide playing music, and entertaining listeners, there’s no shortage of stories to tell. I maintain that coverage of the music radio industry isn’t sufficient. We’re not going to solve every problem and nail every story but we’re going to work our tails off to try and make things better.

So, how can you help us? Email [email protected] so we’re aware of your success, career related news, and how to reach you for future feature stories. Sharing our content on social media and telling folks about the website once it’s live is another easy way to offer support.

To avoid any confusion, we will not be writing daily news on artists and record label activity. It’s why I’ve continued to mention ‘music radio’ each time I promote this expansion. We’re looking to focus our coverage on broadcasters, brands, companies, ratings, content, etc.. Artists and music labels may become part of our coverage down the road, but that’s not our immediate focus.

Which leads me to today’s announcement regarding our Editor. I spoke with a lot of smart, talented people for this role. Adding someone with management experience, who has a passion to write, a can-do attitude, a love for the industry, and relationships across formats is very important. I’ve found that person, and hope you’ll join me in welcoming Jeff Lynn as Barrett Media’s first ever Music Radio Editor.

Jeff’s experience in the music radio business spans nearly 25 years. He’s been a program director for iHeart, Townsquare Media, NRG Media, and Rubber City Radio Group. Those opportunities led him to Milwaukee/Madison, WI, Cleveland/Akron, OH, Des Moines/Quad Cities, IA and Omaha, NE. All Access then hired him in 2022 to leave the programing world and serve as a Country Format Editor, and manager of the outlet’s Nashville Record promotions. He remained in that role until August 2023 when the outlet shut down.

“I am honored to join the team at Barrett Media to guide the brand’s Music Radio coverage”, said Jeff Lynn. “Radio has been a lifelong passion and pursuit of mine. To be able to tell stories of the great work being done by radio pros and broadcast groups is very exciting. They are stories that need to be told. I can’t wait to get started.”

Jeff Lynn with Jelly Roll

I added Ron Harrell, Robby Bridges, and Kevin Robinson as columnists two weeks ago. Bob Lawrence and Keith Berman then joined us this past Monday. We’re quickly assembling a talented stable of writers, and with Jeff on board as our Editor, we’re almost ready for prime time. The only thing left to do is hire a few features reporters. I’m planning to finalize those decisions next week.

Building this brand and making it a daily destination for music radio professionals will take time. It starts with adding talented people, covering the news, and creating interesting content consistently. If we do things right, I’m confident the industry’s support will follow. Time will tell if my instincts are right or wrong.

Jeff begins his new role with Barrett Media on July 1st. Adding him to our editorial team to spearhead our music radio coverage is important for both building brand identity and trust across the industry. I’m eager to work with him, and hope you’ll take a moment to say hello and offer your congratulations. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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Greg Hill is Turning the Tables in Morning Drive on WEEI

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen.”

Derek Futterman

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Greg Hill
Courtesy: Audacy

Earlier in the week, the Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA championship. Across a variety of sports radio stations, especially those in the Boston-Manchester designated market area, the triumph was a subject of discussion on Tuesday morning. Within morning drive on WEEI, host Greg Hill provided his thoughts on the team and its achievement.

Akin to the Celtics, Hill aims to position his weekday program to thrive and sustain success. After working in the industry for many years, some professionals can exhibit a sense of apathy, but for Hill, it is quite the opposite, exhibiting congeniality and authenticity to the audience as a whole amid this quest.

Although Hill broadcasts on a sports talk station, the morning show spans beyond comprehensive sports discussion while implementing a variety of other topics into its daily discussion. In fact, Hill defines the breadth of topics into two distinctive categories, one of which is sports while the other covers an assortment of miscellaneous subjects mentioned on the show.

“I think it’s more beneficial if you are a radio person and you know what you think works when it comes to doing radio,” Hill said. “If you can find a way to keep the audience entertained and engaged and try, if you can, to present content that’s different than [what] they might find somewhere else, then that’s more important than necessarily a vast X’s and O’s knowledge when it comes to sports from my perspective.”

Sports teams in the city of Boston have established a tradition of grandeur and excellence, making a habit of remaining in contention for championships every year. In fact, the Celtics championship ended the city’s title drought that spanned just over five years. During that time, the media ecosystem has changed with a prioritization on digital distribution in addition to more niche content offerings. As a long-tenured radio host, Hill has been able to successfully adapt by optimizing the idiosyncrasies of the medium while also being open to innovation.

“The old adage about, and I think it still remains a unique advantage when it comes to this medium, is that when you wake up in the morning, you want to know, ‘What happened? What happened last night?,’ and you want to hear people give you their slant on it,” Hill said. “My function, I think, is to give everybody the opportunity to share their opinions on stuff.”

While Hill has become a respected sports radio host, he initially started working in another sector of the industry. During his time as a middle school student, he worked a paper route and saved his money to buy two turntables and several 45-rpm records. Hill would then go to the garage of his parents’ house and host a radio show with no audience, working to master the craft in his nascence. As he grew older, he started to bring his records to his high school radio station and take the air.

The passion and verve he possessed for the medium, along with his talent in the craft, helped him land a job at WAAF as a promotion coordinator. As he began to showcase his abilities, he earned chances to go on the air over the weekends and overnight. Morning show host Drew Lane later asked Hill if he wanted to do sports on the program, and he continued to grow from there.

When Hill was named the host of the new Hill-Man Morning Show on WAAF a few years later, he needed to find a way to stand out in the marketplace. After all, he was facing competition from Charles Laquidara on WBCN and a variety of other media outlets, and it took time for the program to eventually break through. Hill took the opposite approach of other stations in the area to render the show distinct from those on other media outlets.

“WBCN at the time was an older-targeted station, so we targeted the station towards Men 18-34 and figured that we could grow as they grew,” Hill said. “So we were just going out attending every single possible event where somebody might be, going out before concerts and shaking hands, and doing all that stuff that I think you have to do in order to try to get people to try your show and try your station.”

Hill’s program catapulted to the top of the marketplace, and he signed a lifetime contract after 26 years on the air to stay at WAAF. In signing the deal, he never thought he would work anywhere else, but things changed three years later when Gerry Callahan hosted his last show in morning drive on WEEI. Then-Entercom announced that it was adding Hill to the daypart to host a new morning drive program and retained co-host Danielle Murr in the process, commencing a new era for the outlet. Shortly thereafter, WAAF was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and re-formatted with contemporary Christian programming.

“I never thought [W]AAF would go away,” Hill said. “It was a legendary rock station, and I still to this day will flip by that station and hear Christian rock music and sit there in silence for a couple of minutes for that great radio station, but being the same company and the same market manager at the time [in] Mark Hannon, when that opportunity came up [to] try something different and to make a change, I was really excited about it.”

In moving formats, Hill and his colleagues evaluated the program and determined how they could grow their audience on WEEI while staying true to the essence of the show. The program, however, was going up against Toucher & Rich, the hit morning show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and others.

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen,” Hill said. “To me, the most important thing is that we’re doing what we should do to get partners for the radio station on the business side of things and delivering results for them.”

Hill is cognizant of the success of 98.5 The Sports Hub but articulated that the ranking does not matter to those spending money on radio. Instead, he claims that it is about the level of engagement and patronization of the product that facilitates interest in the brand.

“From a differentiator point of view, we’re up against, on the sports side of things, an incredible radio station that has done an amazing job of being #1 in this market for a long time with really compelling personalities,” Hill said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to find ways to be different when it comes to our choice on content and the way in which we present it, and then outwork them when it comes to going out and meeting people who might listen to the show.”

Whereas Hill was originally a solo host during his early days on WAAF, he is now joined by Jermaine Wiggins and Courtney Cox, both of whom bring unique aspects that enhance the program. Wiggins, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, provides his knowledge of football and the perspective of a professional athlete. Cox is the youngest person on the program and has a unique approach from her time covering sports at NESN while embracing the humor and repartee on the show. Show producer Chris Curtis, who worked with Hill at WAAF, also contributes to the conversation as well and has helped maintain synergy.

“Whether it’s the co-hosts on the show or callers, I love when they are having fun at my expense, and I think that self-deprecating humor to me is the best,” shared Hill. “If we have a show in which I end up being the punchline or end up, whether it’s my age or lack of technological skill or my frugality – whatever it is – that to me is my favorite part of what we do and that personality coming through, I guess.”

Hill uses his platform to benefit the community through The Greg Hill Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded to provide families affected by tragedy with immediate needs. He created the foundation in 2010 to celebrate two decades on the air at WAAF before the advent of crowdfunding in a quest to give back. The foundation has donated over $20 million to more than 9,000 beneficiaries during its 14 years.

“We’re lucky in radio because we have this incredible tradition of public service, and I think everybody in radio feels this obligation – this great obligation to use the airwaves to help others,” Hill said. “We’re granted the incredible platform in which we can actually get people to respond when help is needed, and so I wanted to be able to use that microphone and the radio station on those days to be able to help the beneficiaries in our area who needed it.”

Hill recently signed a multiyear contract extension with Audacy-owned WEEI to continue hosting The Greg Hill Show. Part of what compelled him to remain at the station was working with Ken Laird, the brand manager of the outlet who used to be his producer at WAAF. Moreover, he has known Audacy Boston market manager Mike Thomas for over two decades as he leads the cluster of stations in an environment with many entities looking to garner shares of attention.

“To be able to have the opportunity to work with those guys, know what they are, what I need them to do to keep them happy and to have the opportunity for us to, from a team perspective, that we have one clear mission in mind, and that is to be No. 1,” Hill said. “No. 1 in revenue and No. 1 when it comes to ratings, so to be able to sit there and go, ‘Alright, since I came here five years ago, we definitely have some wins, but there’s still a lot that we have to do,’ and to be able to do it with them together was way more interesting to me than any other opportunity.”

Even though Hill has worked in the sports media business for many years, he remains energized by the prospect of achieving goals and having the privilege to host his radio program. In the past, he has stated that he would like to slow down in his career, yet he is unsure what he would do without working in radio.

“That being said, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn for 30-something years, and I’m definitely feeling it more than I used to,” Hill said. “But sometimes I think it would be fun to go and do one more radio show where I play seven great songs an hour, as long as I get to pick whatever I play and there’s no research and there’s no computer programming the music. I sometimes think about that, but I just love doing this.”

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If Jim Rome is Willing to Innovate, So Can You

Jim Rome is 59 years old and has been at this for 35 years. And if he finds value in embracing new platforms, you, your hosts, and your stations should be able to do it, too.

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Photo of Jim Rome and a logo for the X platform

Jim Rome is 59 years old. He’s been in the sports talk radio game since before I was born. And earlier this year, his show left CBS Sports Network to begin a live simulcast on the Elon Musk-owned X platform.

And it has exposed him and his show to a much wider, and frankly much younger, audience in the short time since the simulcast began.

If you search X, you’ll see either “I didn’t know Jim Rome was still around” or “I’ve never heard of Jim Rome, but I saw his show on here,” posts.

Now, that doesn’t mean he’s abandoning terrestrial radio. In fact, he recently chastised a caller for talking poorly about “scratchy AM radio”, which elicited a strong defense of the medium from the sports talk legend.

But I can’t help but think that if — at this stage in both his life and his career — Jim Rome is willing to try new things, so can you, your show, or your station.

To be frank, Rome has every reason to coast. Rest on his laurels. Simply collect a paycheck and call it a day until his contract is up. But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s innovating. He’s taking chances. I’m sure it’s a much safer feeling — especially for someone about to reach 60 (you look great by the way, Jim) — to stick to a familiar simulcast on cable TV. For damn near 40 years, that’s been the dominant player in the space. But it isn’t 1992 anymore.

Listening to Rome describe the new simulcast makes either one of two things true: Either he doesn’t truly understand what he’s doing, or he believes that his audience is potentially too old to understand streaming. Because he talks about the new venture like he’s trying to explain it to a five-year-old, but at least he’s out here attempting it.

Listening to many shows or stations around the country has at times led me to have a cynical view of the industry. Lipservice is often paid when you hear leaders say “We’re in the content business, not the radio business,” but then only put their content on the radio. Or in podcast form, in three-hour blocks with the live traffic reports still included in the audio to really cement home the fact that the producer couldn’t be bothered to even attempt to edit it before publishing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some stations that have fantastic radio, podcast, digital video, and social media strategies. Others excel at live events.

But many — you could argue too many — are resting on their laurels, taking a “this is good enough,” approach to the format and its content, and hoping that nothing ever changes.

The problem is the world changes every single day. And if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. If the biggest and best stations in the industry fall behind, the entire format falls behind. And I don’t want to see that happen.

If you don’t have a digital video strategy in 2024, I have one quick question: Why not? I was a Program Director in market #228, and we had a digital video strategy.

If you don’t have a podcast strategy in 2024 that’s better than “just put up the entire show from today”, I have one quick question: Why not?

“Why not?” is likely the question Jim Rome asked when he was presented with the opportunity to move his show from the safe haven that was CBS Sports Network and bring it to a wider, younger, and more accessible audience on social media. Now, was it a risk? Absolutely.

But that’s the point. Be willing to take the chance. Be willing to try something different. Experiment. Learn. I can empathize with those who are frozen by the fear of failing. It’s a completely valid worry. But not growing, not chasing every revenue and content avenue possible, and not learning something new is a bigger risk, in my book.

I’m not here to suggest you take an ax to everything you’ve done on your show, your station, or your cluster, but I will strongly advocate for expanding your horizons and attempting to meet your audience wherever they may be. And even if that audience might be in places you’re unfamiliar with, familiarize yourself. Do I get the impression Jim Rome was super familiar with live video streams on X before taking his show there? No. But he was willing to take a chance, knowing that it might benefit in the long run.

I hope you operate in the same spirit.

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