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Jonathan Zaslow Is No Longer A Caveman

“I never would have been that guy who was not only listening to a female in sports radio, but preferring to do a show with a female. I used to be a caveman. I’ve definitely evolved.”

Brian Noe

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Everybody in sports radio has to start somewhere. Often times it’s in a small town like Sioux Falls or Poughkeepsie. There aren’t many hosts that get their start in a top-15 market without having to relocate. Jonathan Zaslow of WQAM in Miami is one of the lucky ones in this regard. He didn’t have to pack his bags for a market in the hundreds. He was able to get his foot in the door at home and talk about the teams he rooted for growing up.

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Zaslow has made the most of his opportunities. He’s had a successful run in sports radio and has worked with big names like Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, and Boog Scambi. Zaslow has also covered Miami Heat basketball for the past 12 years and would love to get more play-by-play opportunities in the future. We talk about what Zaslow has learned most from Joy and Amber, how Stugotz played an important role in his career, and how he has evolved from a self-described caveman. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?

Jonathan Zaslow: South Florida is my hometown. I grew up in North Miami Beach and the only time really that I ever left was when I went to school. I went to the University of Florida, but I’m a Miami guy. Most people who want to do sports radio, they want to be a sports radio talk show host; I wanted to be a sports radio talk show host in Miami. So I really limited the playing field as far as what I wanted to do. I just felt like I wanted to be able to be passionate and root for the teams that I grew up rooting for while talking about them every day and with the same type of people who were just like me listening growing up. I’m from here and I guess you never say never, but I don’t have any plans on leaving.

BN: What was it like for you to initially get started in sports radio when you specifically wanted to be in South Florida?

JZ: I got really, really lucky and my path is not one to try and be replicated. I used my last semester at the University of Florida to do an internship down here at the local NBC affiliate in Miramar. Luckily, this was unbeknownst to me, in September of that year right at the end of my summer internship, a brand new radio station was starting up down here, 790 The Ticket. They were starting up to challenge the incumbent WQAM. They had some money behind them and it was for real. 

The lead sports anchor at the NBC affiliate was Joe Rose who had been the longtime morning host at 560 and was leaving 560 to be the new morning host at the startup 790 The Ticket. At the end of my internship he said to me hey, you’re looking for a job? Call this guy. This guy, whose name he writes down on a piece of paper, Jon Weiner, I call up the next day. I later on found out okay, Jon Weiner is Stugotz. Stugotz from the Dan Le Batard Show was the general manager of this new startup station. That got my foot in the door.

I was doing all the grunt work of course. I was 23 years old. It also gave me the opportunity where it’s a brand new station and they’re just putting people on the air on weekends. Yeah, I’ll do that shift. I’ve never done it before, I’ll do it. I was in a place where I got to do my first sports talk shows, instead of like in Des Moines where I probably should have been doing them, I was doing them in Miami in the No. 13 overall market in the country where I grew up. I already had a wealth of knowledge about all of these teams. I got my foot in the door, really lucky.

BN: Did it take long for you to get a weekday opportunity?

JZ: While I was doing these weekend shifts I was the weekday producer for the Boog Sciambi Show. Boog of course now is the television man for the Cubs, ESPN, all of that. He was the midday host here. He and I became very close and we’re still very close. We had great chemistry together. He was using me on air a lot. That was helping me kind of find my voice a little bit, also get the audience used to who I am. Then eventually Boog left full-time for the Atlanta Braves. That was probably in ‘07. A slot opened up and I ended up taking over weeknights. I was on 7-10 p.m. Probably about three years in, I was now full-time Monday through Friday 7-10 p.m.

BN: How long were you with The Ticket altogether?

JZ: Our parent company is Audacy. They were rivals for many, many years and then eventually they merged and Audacy has both stations. I was moved about two months ago from 790 The Ticket to 560 WQAM. I was the last remaining original employee of 790 The Ticket. I started with 790 in September of ‘04 several days before they actually launched. Until a couple of months ago, I was always able to say I’m the only remaining original employee — still the longest employee, I was there for 17 years — but I was the last one.

We’re two doors down. People ask me what’s it like, you’re now on 560 WQAM. I’m like yeah, I’m just doing my show. It’s in the same building and I’m just two studios down. It’s really no different for me. But all those years where I would be on the air and I would say, ‘I’m 790 ‘til I die. I’m the only original employee still here. I’m not going anywhere.’ And now I’m on 560.

BN: [Laughs] That’s funny, man. How would you describe what it was like to do a show with Joy Taylor and what it was like to do a show with Amber Wilson?

JZ: Really different. The two of them were really, really different. I love them both to this day very much, but really different. With Joy, Joy and I were doing the show together at a really interesting time for both of us. That worked out in both of our favor. What I mean by that is we were both still really young at the time and trying to get a foothold into this career if you will. We were in on the grind. If it didn’t work out, I don’t know what else I’m doing. And if it didn’t work out for her, she doesn’t know what else she’s doing. We were in it to win it. I knew that she was in that foxhole with me and we are working hard together. That was great. I knew that I could count on her and she the same with me. She’s also a very big personality.

The big difference with Amber is she’s so smart. She is like really, really smart. Joy could do some characters and she could be very over-the-top; Amber is herself. She’s super opinionated, but also coming at it from a really, really intelligent place. She made the show a lot smarter. That’s for sure. She was also really good at poking fun of herself. Amber was really playful. Joy was also, but I would say the main difference was Joy and I were at a unique place in both of our careers and Amber was bringing a really super intelligence quotient to the show that it probably did not have before. Not that it didn’t have it from Joy, it didn’t have it from me.

BN: What would you say are some important things that you’ve learned from any of the on-air partners you’ve had?

JZ: I think probably what I learned from working with Amber, I definitely learned how to listen better. That’s for sure. Not everything that comes out of my mouth is the most important thing. I definitely learned how to listen more because she’s really smart and I was able to lean on her with stuff like that. She was going to be able to express maybe what both of us are thinking a lot better than I was going to. She was really good at that kind of stuff, at explaining serious topics with the audience. I definitely learned how to listen a lot better with her.

What I learned by working with Joy, I think I understood how to make sure that it’s good to bring in the personal stuff. When I was doing shows on my own from 7-10, I was doing a hardcore sports show. Nothing personal was coming on. I didn’t know if that was the way to go. I was like all right, well we’re a sports station so let me just stick with sports. With Joy, I really learned how to get all the personal stuff on the air because she was really good at busting my balls and getting on me. I think that’s probably what I learned from her the most.

BN: The lasting influence from Le Batard and his style in Miami, does the town still feel it to this day?

Dan Le Batard

JZ: Yeah, it’s a major imprint because when it was just 560 WQAM, you had that old guard. It was a much older host. We’re talking about Hank Goldberg, Jim Mandich, Jeff DeForrest, guys who are legends down here, but obviously a little bit older than certainly, I was at the time. It was very hardcore sports and it was a Dolphins town. You got to talk Dolphins. Hurricanes, Dolphins.

Then when 790 started up, the whole idea was they’re going to be younger, they’re going to be hipper, and they’re going to do things differently. The station was centered around Le Batard. He was the original afternoon host and he was all about challenging the way that sports radio operates. All of it. And not just sports radio, but challenging sports media and the way that we cover these teams and the way that we think.

I think most of all what had probably the most effect on me was also we don’t have to do this hardcore sports show. We can totally just have fun and that plays in Miami. We’re not New York, we’re not Philly, we’re not Boston. We get busted on for not having hardcore fans here. That’s bullshit. We have incredibly hardcore fans. I’m one of them. There just aren’t enough of them that are like that. The way that you bring in everybody is you’ve got to add a little bit of fun to it and do all the laughing.

I do plenty of shows where most of the show is not sports-related and I’m just having fun. I’m talking about either movies or music or I’m talking about pro wrestling because I love pro wrestling. I would never have done that at the start until I realized okay, this is something that works down here. That I think it’s a permanent imprint that Le Batard had on the sports radio scene here.

BN: What’s the deal in Florida with sports gambling basically being a go, and now it’s not; what impact has that had on fans and also business?

JZ: It’s a go in regards to sports radio and our show. I’ve always been big into sports gambling. I just checked my Hard Rock app yesterday and it works. The Seminole Hard Rock here in Hollywood, that app works. It seems like they’re just kind of hey, we’re doing gambling now, it’s not legal in the state of Florida, but the Seminole Indian tribe, they’ve got their own — it’s complicated down here. That app seems to work, so I don’t know. I think we’re okay, but we’re not? I don’t know.

BN: [Laughs] It’s kind of like the way it was before it became legal. People gambled anyway, so that’s probably where it’s at in Florida, right?

JZ: Yeah, nothing has changed. The only thing that’s going to change is when it all becomes legitimately 100 percent legal. Otherwise, it’s still business as usual. Everybody either has their site or wherever they go. You’ve got the daily fantasy, all of it. And certainly, Audacy is heavily invested with their BetQL Network because it of course is legalized in a bunch of states, but Florida is not one of them yet. Soon.

BN: Being a huge fan of Pearl Jam, has that taught you anything as far as growing and aging with your sports radio audience? 

JZ: You know, it’s funny. I’m a massive Pearl Jam fan and it’s funny because they are not the same band that they were 30 years ago. They have absolutely evolved. Their music does not sound the way that it did before. Certainly, they’ll do things today that their younger version would not have done or would have thought was cheap or maybe even a sellout-type move. In the same vein, I have completely evolved in the way that I do my shows as well.

Pearl Jam Unveil 'Animal' at 1993 MTV Video Music Awards: Watch - Rolling  Stone
Courtesy: Filmmagic, Inc

I’m definitely the guy who would never have wanted to hear a female on sports radio. I never would’ve wanted it. I was definitely a caveman and I have evolved.

I love doing the show with a female. I loved doing the show with Joy Taylor. I loved doing the show with Amber Wilson. My goal is to eventually get back to that. If I do pick up a host again, I do want it to be a female. I think it’s important. I like the inclusivity. I like what a female brings to the show. I get along with females, I always have. I think it’s fun and I never would have been that guy who was not only listening to a female in sports radio, but preferring to do a show with a female. I used to be a caveman. I’ve definitely evolved.

BN: As far as the future goes, what’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience as you go forward?

JZ: I’ve done 12 years with the Miami Heat now on their pre, halftime, and post-game. I love it. That’s a dream come true for me. I grew up a massive Heat fan. They’ve always been the most important team down here to me as a kid. That’s a dream come true. I got the opportunity last year to fill in for the now-retired Mike Inglis. I did some play-by-play and I loved it. I’d like some more opportunities to do that. I think that’s the next thing.

As far as sports radio goes, I love doing local. I’m not going to say never, that I would never move on to something else, but I love doing local. I love Miami. I certainly don’t have any aspirations to do mornings again. I don’t think that stuff matters anymore as far as the time of day because everybody listens on digital, podcasts, you can rewind on the app. That stuff isn’t as important anymore. I love my time slot, but as far as doing extra stuff, I would like to continue doing some play-by-play. I’d also like to do a pro wrestling podcast or radio show. I’m pretty passionate about it, and I’d love to do something in that world.

BN: Is there anything you do to work on your play-by-play chops in case there is an opportunity for you?

JZ: Yeah, the way that I prepared for those games last year, I was recording games and then I would sit in my game room here and I would actually put on headsets just to kind of put myself in that place, and I would call the game. That’s when I kind of realized, I’m like alright. If I keep doing this, I think I might be good at this. It’s funny because a few years ago I was like I’d really like to practice, but if I show up to one of these Heat preseason games and I set up my equipment, Mike’s going to think I’m trying to take his job. I couldn’t do that. [Laughs] I could record games for sure and I could simulate the broadcast. It’s definitely a way to keep practicing.

BN: What’s something about play-by-play where after doing it you were like wow, I didn’t realize that part was going to be tricky?

JZ: That’s a good question. You know what, it seems like such a simple thing, but understanding when they call timeouts and when all the commercials come, that’s not something I ever would’ve thought about. And that stuff comes fast. You have to know all right, is this one of the breaks that we’re supposed to go to commercial here? On my radio show, I’ve got that in my head. I know exactly what I have to do, but here, all right they called timeout, oh the red light came on, that’s going to be a TV timeout. All right, so I’ve got to do this. That kind of stuff is not easy. And that happens fast.

BN: The impact on your body doing mornings for seven years versus middays. How do you explain what your body feels like now?

JZ: It really changed my life. They told me about two years ago that they’re moving me and Amber from mornings to middays. I was shocked of course because another thing I used to be able to hold onto was no one has ever done mornings in 790 The Ticket’s history longer than I did. That record still stands, seven years. I was a little bit shocked. Did we fail here in some regard? That was upsetting at first.

But then I started to think about it and wow, during Heat season, I don’t have to start thinking that if I fall asleep right now, I get a total of four and a half hours. Oh, now if I fall asleep, I get four hours. I don’t have to do that ever again. That weighed on me every night. People can tell you it’s an early wake-up but you’ll get used to it; there’s no getting used to it. You never, ever, ever get used to it. The 4 a.m. wake-up is 4 a.m. every single day. There’s no getting used to it. It’s changed my life.

FOUR IN THE MORNING - Alabama Chanin | Journal



BN: It’s funny because I think it’s something with sports radio hosts where they almost feel guilty, or have to hide the challenges of it because they’re not digging ditches.

JZ: Oh my God, I was explaining this one time. It was when I was doing the show with Amber Wilson and Brett Romberg. One morning I decided to talk about how tired I am after the show by 10 a.m. The listeners are like you got to be effing kidding me, Zaslow. You’re tired? I’m like it’s tiring. I’m talking for four straight hours and there’s no downtime. My brain is constantly spinning. I’m tired at the end of the four hours. People, they can’t grasp it. I am having fun. I’m not saying it’s not fun. But they can’t grasp the idea that you can still get tired doing a job that’s really fun.

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Michelle Smallmon Didn’t Stumble Into Mornings on ESPN Radio

“The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”

Derek Futterman

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Michelle Smallmon
Courtesy: Missouri Athletic Club Connections

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.”

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Desmond Howard Unnecessarily Threw Pete Thamel Under the Bus on College GameDay

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A photo of Desmond Howard

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.

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Nick Wright, Danny Parkins, Andrew Fillipponi and Omar Raja Join The 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.

Jason Barrett

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The buildup to the 2024 BSM Summit continues with our next speakers announcement. Media professionals looking to attend March’s show can secure seats at BSMSummit.com. We’ve already announced Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Don Martin, Bruce Gilbert, Scott Sutherland, Chris Oliviero, Scott Shapiro, Spike Eskin, Mitch Rosen, Paul Mason, Bonnie Bernstein and Damon Amendolara will be part of the event. We’ll have additional big names to reveal in the weeks and months ahead too so stay tuned for more.

Before I get into the latest group of speakers, I want to pass along some Barrett Media news.

First, when you log on to BSM and BNM on Monday December 4th, you’ll notice both sites operating with a new, cleaner look. We pump out a lot of daily content on our websites but finding all of it can be intimidating. We’re hoping the modifications make it easier to find and digest our content and look forward to your feedback on what we roll out next week.

Secondly, I’ve spent months going through a process to identify an Executive Editor for Barrett Media. The type of leader I’ve been looking for different from what exists at some online publications. I’ve spoken to a lot of smart, talented people during this process, many who I know could make us better. However, there is only one job available. Fortunately after going through an extensive search, I’ve identified someone who I’m interested in teaming with to help take Barrett Media to the next level. I hope to announce that hire and the addition of a number of new writers next week. I think our readers, partners and clients will like what’s on the horizon.

Third, we have opened up voting on the Barrett News Media Top 20 of 2023. The deadline to cast votes for News/Talk PD’s is next Monday December 4th. We will present the News/Talk radio format’s collective feedback December 11-15 and December 18 on BarrettNewsMedia.com.

There’s other stuff on the way as well, but I’ll save the rest for next week. Let’s dive now into the latest additions to the Summit.

It is my pleasure to announce the additions of Nick Wright of FS1, Danny Parkins of 670 The Score in Chicago, Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and Omar Raja of ESPN to the 2024 BSM Summit speaker lineup. All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.

Starting with Omar Raja, the work he did building House of Highlights into a powerhouse social brand is well documented. He now serves as a commentator for ESPN’s digital and social content, which includes being the leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account, and providing strategic social programming across ESPN’s social platforms. It’s not every day industry professionals gain an opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top social media minds, so I’m hoping to see a lot of folks present when he shares his wisdom at the Summit.

Shifting from digital to on-air talent, one session I know many will be present for will include three personalities who have been highly successful in each of their careers, and share a lifelong bond through the friendships they formed while attending Syracuse University together. Nick Wright, Andrew Fillipponi, and Danny Parkins are three of the best in the business today, and all three will be on stage together to discuss their individual paths, their differing approaches to content creation, measuring and managing success, and much more. Having Damon Amendolara, another Syracuse graduate who’s been highly successful on the air, guide the session should make it even more interesting and entertaining for all in the room.

With these latest four individuals added to the lineup we’ve now secured sixteen top speakers for March’s show. I’m hoping to reveal the next group of participants in a few weeks. Once we get past the holidays I’ll start revealing the awards winners and a few executives who will be part of the conference.

I want to thank Steve Stone Voiceovers, Good Karma Brands, Bonneville International, Silver Tribe Media, Premiere Networks and the Motor Racing Network for returning as sponsors of the 2024 BSM Summit. If your group would like to explore a sponsorship opportunity for the show or review website or newsletter options for 2024, email Stephanie Eads at [email protected] to receive a copy of our advertising decks.

That’s the latest for now. More to come in December.

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