Mike Stone has been a fixture in the Detroit radio scene for roughly 30 years. He’s learned a few tricks along the way. Stoney knows that carrying on about the sad state of local teams would just depress listeners even more. Who wants to feel worse during their morning commute by listening to a show that only bellyaches about how badly things suck? Stoney appreciates the value of not sticking to sports all the time; especially when sticking to Detroit sports might give the audience a splitting headache or sharp abdomen pain.
Stoney was born and bred in suburban Philadelphia and has lived in Detroit since May of 1986. He talks about the personal and professional pain of losing Jamie Samuelsen due to colon cancer. Stoney also discusses what he likes most and least about doing radio in Detroit, his obsession with Bruce Springsteen, and what he’d love to experience before his career ends. Although you obviously can’t hear Stoney, take it from me that he also does a really solid impression of his former radio partner Rob Parker. “Come ooooon, Brian.” Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How did your path unfold that led to you landing in Detroit?
Mike Stone: Very strange. I interned in college for the NBC television station. I worked in the newsroom. We hired a guy named George Michael. You probably know him from the Sports Machine. He was their local sportscaster.
I produced a sportscast on the weekends and worked in the newsroom during the week. Then I wanted to get on the air. That didn’t work at first. Another sportscaster in Washington happened to get a job in Detroit. He needed somebody with NBC ties. He moved here and I was his producer. Then one thing led to another and I became friends and roommates with two other guys, one being Mitch Albom, who besides working at the Free Press, did sports on the morning radio rock ‘n’ roll station. We did this show on Sunday nights starting in 1988. I did some talk radio with him. It was more of a guest heavy show with some trivia. Then WDFN started in 1994. I got the afternoon gig with Rob Parker. He left and then Wojo [Bob Wojnowski] came in and there we go.
BN: Was it surprising that George Michael blew up the way he did?
MS: Yeah, absolutely. It was weird because when I grew up as a kid in Philly, George was basically a Top 40 DJ. Then he moved to New York. He went from WFIL in Philly to WABC in New York. Then he did weekends on Channel 7 in New York for Warner Wolf. He did some Islander games. I knew he was really good. He had influence where he convinced the network — we were owned and operated by NBC — to do a half-hour Sunday show. Then it became the Sports Machine. Before the Sports Machine — this is back in the early ‘80s, right around when ESPN started — but most TV stations didn’t have satellite dishes. Like for instance last night there was an NBA playoff game. A lot of people didn’t have cable. We would get the games fed in, cut the highlights, and I would voice it among the three or four people who would do voiceover highlights. We would send it to every NBC station. The bigger stations would just take two or three highlights and do it themselves. The small markets and in Canada would just run me with my voice. I did that for a while.
BN: What was it like to work with Rob Parker?
MS: I just talked to him earlier today. It was great. Rob Parker is basically an old Jewish guy in a Black man’s body. We got along great. We actually were the first Odd Couple and he’s stolen that name and now has a successful show with Chris Broussard.
We’re very good friends. It was a lot of fun. We’d goof on a lot of things. We obviously did mostly sports but we talked about other stuff as well; his love for the Golden Girls, my love for Bruce Springsteen. Rob was a lot of fun. Looking back I think he made a poor decision by leaving and going to New York, but he always wanted to be a columnist in New York. That’s why he left. I love him but his Tom Brady take is so ridiculously wrong it’s incredible.
BN: [Laughs] And he’s just going to die on that hill, man. He’s dug in.
MS: I know. It’s like he sits there and goes if this didn’t happen, if the Tuck Rule. Okay fine, but give the side where luck went against him like Asante Samuel dropping an interception before the Eli Manning play. So he would have won another Super Bowl. I mean, whatever. He won’t give it up.
Wojo and I did a Sunday morning show. It was natural that he took Rob’s place. That show just completely took off. It was very successful. The only downfall was we were on a station that was AM, 50,000 watts sunrise to sundown. Then during the winter, nobody could really hear us outside of a certain area. We did very well all things considered, small budget, no advertising. I’m very proud of that show. We did it for about 14 years probably. DFN started in July of ‘94 so Wojo and I probably started April or May of ‘95. We were fired along with 2,000 other people from Clear Channel the day Obama got inaugurated in ‘09.
BN: I got caught in that myself. I was doing radio in Fresno. I went to work like normal and got chopped that day too.
MS: Yeah, it was weird. We heard all the rumors but we never thought our show would get cut because it was very successful; it was the only thing that made money on that station. But they didn’t care. It’s corporate radio, corporate America.
BN: Do you love Springsteen more or does Rob love the Golden Girls more?
MS: Oh, I love Springsteen more. I’ve seen him 126 times. I used to have it in my contract where if he was within 750 miles of Detroit, I could take the day off and go. I didn’t abuse it but I used it. [Laughs]
BN: What has it been like for you personally and professionally following the passing of your former partner Jamie Samuelsen?
MS: Personally it really sucks because Jamie worked with us on DFN when it started in ‘94. He was doing updates. Then he did the afternoon show, and then the morning show. Just a great, great guy. A great friend and just a wonderful human being. Professionally, we did probably about three or four years together. He was great because he was smart, he was witty, he took control because I wander. He pretty much held me in check so to speak.
We had a really good thing going. We went from a show with my other buddy Bill McAllister that was maybe 60 percent sports; they wanted more sports so that’s why they brought Jamie along. We loved it. I love Jamie.
That whole experience was just brutal. He told us early on but he never let on that it was really bad. We knew he went to chemo a lot. But other than that he never showed it. He played tennis basically a month before he passed away. It wasn’t until the end that it got bad and he passed away at such a young age.
It’s horrible. But every day I walk in that studio, you see the little sign Jamie Samuelson Studio, and I think of him all the time. We’ve kind of regrouped. It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.
BN: What’s your new radio partner Jon Jansen like?
My new partner is somebody completely different. He’s a hunter, a fisherman, more of a man’s man. Played in the NFL for 10 years. All-American at Michigan and he’s a great guy too. That’s been different. If we care about ratings, they’ve been really, really good — even through COVID.
We both have improved in trying not to step on each other. That’s usually my fault more than his. He’s improved where sometimes he’ll take a topic and he’ll lead the topic, which before I used to do 100 percent of the time. He used to do a show for Sirius college football, ESPNU, Big Ten Network, I believe all that stuff, so he was very comfortable doing that.
BN: What was it like to see The Fan lose more and more local shows and then eventually go away?
MS: Well it was weird. When we were there obviously it sucked. It was like a college radio station because we started it from scratch. We didn’t have the teams. We could pretty much do whatever we wanted for the most part. We had a lot of fun. We still have fun, not as much as we used to.
Seeing DFN fail, most of it was sad. The people who were still there locally were all friends of ours so you hated to see them lose jobs. It made no sense. You just wanted to shove it up Clear Channel’s ass. If they just would have left things the way they were.
We actually tried to convince them to go to FM years ago before even 97.1 went from 1270 to FM years ago. Corporate there just wouldn’t listen. Our market manager was a great guy named Dave Pugh, Dan Patrick’s brother by the way, and they would never listen to him. They would never listen to us. They basically got what they deserved. My friends always talk about how I’m still bitter at hedge fund takeovers. I just think it’s awful.
BN: The Ticket is dominant with a bunch of bad teams in the area. If the Lions or Pistons were just crushing it, would that have a big impact on the ratings?
MS: I would assume so, especially the cume. When the games are on, definitely. We have the Lions back this year so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays. Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you guys are lucky the Lions stink, you get to bitch about them all the time.’ It might make better radio for periods but I go back to when the Pistons made their run and even when the Wings were winning Stanley Cups, it might not have been compelling radio all the time because you have no issues.
You break down a regular season one of 82 games, oh the Wings play Dallas tonight, what are you going to say? It might not have been compelling to have great teams all the time, but you get a lot of fringe people that get on the bandwagon especially during the playoffs. So yeah, I think ratings would go up if we were any good.
We’re rebuild city. Every team blows. They’re all in the same boat for the most part. It’s unbelievable. Even colleges — Michigan football stinks. At least Michigan basketball and Michigan State basketball are pretty good but other than that, it is just depressing. It really is. That’s where the deal of doing non-sports things, especially on the morning show, is really important. A great example, we were talking about something sporty, and we weren’t getting up a lot of calls. Then Jon was talking about how he got into an argument with his daughter about how to cut grilled cheese. The phone’s lit up. Do you cut them square or triangle?
Those things people just relate to so much more than some sports topics. It’s incredible. That’s what we did at DFN a little bit and then at 97.1, they’ve been doing that for years and it has really paid off. The non-sports stuff really does well especially when it’s done in an entertaining fashion.
BN: It’s so funny, man. You could have a sports thought that is well laid out, it’s got depth, and there’s hardly any reaction. But if you talk about, I don’t know, what are the most comfortable shoes, the reaction is crazy. How do you take that?
MS: I used to get really pissed off about it but now I just realize that’s the way it is. People are more into reacting to something that they can relate to. They might not relate to the Pistons trading this guy for that guy especially when your teams are bad. People react to things they can relate to. It’s not just the quote-unquote cliché guy talk; it’s even just stupid stuff like food. That always goes well — any type of food topic. Yesterday there was a story I saw — I forget the guy’s name, he’s like the Gordon Ramsay of fast food — with tips on how to eat fast food while you’re driving. People like that stuff because everybody does it.
BN: What’s the sensitivity level like from the local pro teams?
MS: The Lions have historically been very difficult. They call sometimes even during shows to set you straight so to speak. Sometimes they are right. They’re like oh, we just want to give you the facts. Well you know what? It’s an opinion.
My answer to that — even going back to when the team was .500 and would make the playoffs every once in a while — just win games. As long as we’re not saying anything that is inflammatory, personal about someone as far as off the field or anything, who cares?
I’ve had a few little things over the years where I’ve tweeted something stupid where somebody says take it down. And I have because it was a personal thing. Other than that, they’ve been pretty good. But they know; what are we going to say about this? Every team is awful. Back in the DFN days, they’d try to pull credentials. We weren’t even rights-holders.
There have been stories when we lost the Lions whether or not it was because of our afternoon show. That might have something to do with it but I also think the other station paid more money.
BN: What is your favorite and also your least favorite part of doing radio in Detroit?
MS: My favorite part is just interacting with people, listeners, talking to people on the street. I know a lot of people don’t like that. If somebody goes up to a particular person in the media and asks a question about a team, they’ll say I’m not working right now. I love that these people are listening. I like that type of interaction.
On the air I don’t like the fact that I think we’re too knee-jerk. Maybe being older I’ve gotten a lot more patient. The fire this guy, fire that guy mentality I think has gotten out of hand a little bit. I think you should give guys especially colleges four or five years to have recruiting classes, things like that. I think we try to fire people way too often.
Off the air the only thing I don’t like — I can’t complain, I have a great job — but I’d much rather be doing afternoons. I’ve always been a nighttime person. I hate getting up at 4:45 in the morning.
BN: If you were able to handpick a pro team to win a championship either in Detroit or Philly, who would be the team you’d choose?
MS: Oh, it’s not even close, it’s the Lions. We had millions at the parades when the Red Wings won, the Pistons. The Tigers haven’t won since ‘84. In Philly when I was a kid I was like the biggest Flyer fan also; I’ve been to those parades. They haven’t won since ’75, which is hard to believe. It’s the Lions. People don’t realize — they’re starting to — they’ve won one playoff game since 1957. It is an incredible statistic. We all know they’ve never been to the Super Bowl. But in this area in the Midwest it’s football first.
If this team, that I believe is cursed, and has had so many awful things happen to it — one guy has died in the NFL on the field, it was a Lion. All sorts of things. The laundry list is incredible and yet people still love this team. If this team could ever, ever win a championship, it would be the celebration among all celebrations. This is like the Cubs, only not as glorious. We’re not the lovable Cubs. We’re the Lions.
BN: Do you have any fun Bruce Springsteen stories?
MS: I have met him a couple of times on vacation in the Bahamas. Word got out that he was there. We went to a restaurant and couldn’t get near his table. The next day I just happened to see him walk into the hotel. I was kind of shy so I didn’t do anything. My wife was with my kids who were five or six at the time, followed him into the jewelry store in the Atlantis. She told him, she goes, “Excuse me Mr. Springsteen, my husband is a big fan. He has this thing in his contract.” He was kind of impressed by that. He goes I’ve got to meet him. I was in a different store so she waves me in. I got to meet him. He was nice. I asked the first question of him at the Super Bowl press conference. I’ve just been to ridiculous amounts of shows although hopefully it works out next year and I can go to Europe and see him. I hear it’s absolutely nuts there.
BN: Any goals going forward that you would like to experience or accomplish?
MS: Wow, I would love to be able to do this for as long as they let me. I’m 62 now. I don’t want to retire. I don’t know if it makes sense healthwise to do mornings for a much longer period of time. But I love what I’m doing.
My one time goal, due to someone getting sick and somebody unavailable, I did play-by-play for two Pistons games. I went on the road with them in Miami and Charlotte when LeBron was on the Heat. That was great. I always thought I’d be better at play-by-play than anything. I would still somehow love to do that but I don’t see too many teams hiring guys my age to do play-by-play for a whole season or something.
BN: Has retirement ever crossed your mind when you’re waking up at the crack of dawn?
MS: No, because I think I’d be bored out of my mind. There’s only so much bad golf I can play. I think as I get older to do more shows from down in Florida where my parents have a place — they’re in their 90s — to go down there and do a week or two of shows would be nice.
My wife’s family has a place up in northern Michigan. Doing a few weeks up there during the summer, that would be good. But as far as absolutely retiring, no I don’t want to do that. I have a feeling those decisions will be made by other people than me. John Audacy; whoever he is.
Actually, I would love to be able to do a podcast whether it’s for our company or not, where I could basically say whatever I wanted. It’s not the company’s fault, it’s just the way terrestrial radio is — that you wish you could just do, but you can’t. Kind of like a Le Batard feel to it, where I’d kind of be like Stugotz, but I’d be old Gotz. I really enjoyed that show. Or because I really enjoy Barstool’s websites and stuff; something like Barstool for old guys. That would be pretty cool.
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.