Maria Taylor. Cari Champion. Mina Kimes. Sarah Spain.
If you were to come up with a list of the best women personalities in sports media, those four names would probably highlight the top of the list. These four women also have something in common that expands much further than just creating compelling content on TV, radio or podcasts. Each one has inspired women across the country to pursue their dream in sports media.
One specific example is happening right now in Memphis.
Jessica Benson and Meghan Triplett are the hosts of Rise and Grind, a daily podcast centered on the Memphis Grizzlies. The duo host the podcast for Grind City Media, a content partner with the Grizzlies. Benson and Triplett hold a unique distinction in their market, in that they’re the only all-woman sports show in Memphis.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” said Triplett. “The best thing about our show is that it’s not just for women. We’re two women that can discuss different things, from sports to pop culture and more.”
Benson was doing local news on TV when she decided she wanted a change. Triplett, originally from Memphis, was in Boston as an anchor for the Lacrosse Sports Network. Grind City Media wanted to create a morning podcast that would broadcast on YouTube, as well as the Grizzlies app. Benson and Triplett were given the opportunity and quickly rose up the charts in Memphis.
“Grind City Media has done a great job of creating unique content from the perspective of being in house, meaning that we work within the Grizzlies organization,” said Benson. “Meghan and I really created the show from scratch.”
Benson and Triplett have created a show that’s both genuine and entertaining. That’s an accomplishment, seeing as both came from the TV side and knew that podcasting was going to require an adjustment.
“It’s very different,” said Triplett. “Even with the dynamic on our show, which you can watch live on YouTube, learning how to describe things, whether it’s an injury or something else, there was an adjustment period. I did a podcast a few years ago so that was a great help, but I loved the idea of hosting a podcast, because you can work on your voice and it makes you more comfortable. In TV there are a lot of other aspects that you have to be thinking about at the same time.”
“I think one of the really cool things about our show is that it’s not just an audio podcast, we have a video element to it as well,” said Benson. “We bring up various social media posts that we highlight during the show, we show highlights, soundbites, it’s kind of merging all of the mediums together. I was really lucky that I had an opportunity to do fill-in work at 92.9 ESPN. That’s what opened my eyes, that maybe, I could have an opportunity to use my voice more and to have longer time to talk about the sports that I love.”
There’s more women than ever in the sports radio industry. That’s a sign of progress, but there’s still a need for more talented women on the airwaves. Women haven’t often had the opportunity to look up to other women in sports radio. The industry has largely been dominated by male personalities, so giving women the space they deserve and the room they need to grow on the air has been limited. So who were upcoming female talent supposed to look up to then?
It’s why the emergence of personalities like Champion, Kimes, Spain and Taylor have been so critical. They’ve broken through a door that people such as Benson and Triplett can now follow.
“I think it’s huge,” said Benson. “I think it’s always been there but now we have a situation where more women have been given opportunities to have a larger platform. The next generation of women will have someone to look up to. I never necessarily wanted to do sports talk radio because I didn’t have anyone that I was looking up to. Now I’ll listen to Sarah Spain’s Show. Here locally in Memphis, Meghan and I are the only women in this kind of platform. There are amazing women all over this industry, but in terms of a long form sports show, Megan and I are it here. Hopefully someday there will be a multitude of women in Memphis that are doing the same thing we are.”
“One of my best friends, and someone I really admire is Maria Taylor,” added Triplett. “I’ve gotten to follow her to where she is today, and she’s the one I lean on most. When she goes through things, she’ll call and say, ‘I don’t want you to ever have to go through this, or be on the lookout for this’. Dealing with the crazy busy schedule she has, she tells me how she manages prepping and how naps are so important.
“One of the things she’s teaching me right is you can say no to certain things. You don’t have to say yes to everything, because sometimes we’re in the space where we think, one day they’re going to take this opportunity away from us. That’s an awful space to be in. Another mentor of mine is Cari Champion. She’s someone I lean on so much. She’s getting so many opportunities right now and her podcasts are amazing.”
Breaking into the podcast space and being successful is tough enough, but if you add in the element of two women trying to connect with a heavy male audience, it’s arguably the toughest hill to climb. Benson and Triplett have never let that challenge deter them. If anything, they’ve embraced the challenge and made the show likable by every person, regardless of gender.
“I think we’re really fortunate that the audience consuming our show has been incredibly supportive,” said Benson. “I personally haven’t felt much pushback. The show we do is for everyone that loves sports and pop culture. It’s just an entertaining way for people to start their day. You shouldn’t want to tune in because we’re two women, you should want to tune in because we’ve got interesting and smart things to say.”
Benson and Triplett have found their voice. But being under a team umbrella, means you sometimes have to walk the line. That issue though hasn’t created any problems yet for the Memphis duo.
“It’s an interesting balance to strike, said Benson. “We’re fortunate in that the Grizzlies don’t necessarily handcuff us. When they created an opinion-based show, they knew it’d involve us talking about the team on a daily basis and sometimes that doesn’t always lead to everything being roses. It’s nice to be able to feel like we have an honest space where we can be critical of the team if it’s warranted. We share space in a building with the Grizzlies so there’s definitely a line you can’t cross. But you have to be authentic in the way you talk about the team, because fans are coming in and they expect the truth. We have some really smart basketball fans in Memphis, and I respect them, and want them to feel like they’ll be treated to an honest conversation about the team when they listen to us.”
“It’s how you say certain things,” Triplett added. “We’re not negative people, per se. I grew up a Grizzlies fan so it’s hard for me to be negative towards them. There’s never really a need to go in on a player. On our show, we give opinions on certain things, but we’re also honest and truthful.”
Big things are on the cusp for both Benson and Triplett. That includes the Rise and Grind podcast, which has the unique feature of being aired live every morning on Youtube. Podcasts are evolving, just like every other form of media, so it makes sense that live video is the next big transition to come to the space. It’s a feature Benson and Triplett have not only embraced, but have created a community of viewers and commenters that help make the show what it is.
“It’s at least the future for our show,” said Benson. “I think it just goes to show mediums in sports media continue to evolve. I think people prefer to watch it on Youtube.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.