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Dan McDowell Is More Than a ‘Tiny Slice’ of The Ticket’s Success

Dan McDowell has been a big reason why The Ticket in Dallas has done so well in his twenty-plus years on the air and it all started with a P.O. Box in Cleveland.

Tyler McComas

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Finding yourself in a career rut isn’t a question of if but rather when, in the sports radio business. How you get out of those ruts, can ultimately determine the path your career takes. Dan McDowell found himself in a rut in the mid-90’s while hopping around small stations in Ohio. He wanted something bigger and more exciting but he was struggling to find a way to make it happen. McDowell’s plan was simple: send radio reel tapes and resumes to any attractive openings he found across the country. And he sent a lot. The problem was that he rarely received any interest back, or even a response.

There came a point where McDowell started to wonder if he was going about things the right way. He then came to the realization he didn’t really know what a great resume looked like or what a great demo tape sounded like. How was he supposed to improve his situation if he wasn’t exactly sure what to send to a Program Director? McDowell thought of a way to see how other broadcasters were doing it. And he came up with a brilliant idea. 

“I would go to Radio.com back then and look at the ads for the things I wanted,” said McDowell. “Some of the addresses just had P.O. Boxes. My mom had a P.O. Box in Cleveland, so I wrote an ad, describing exactly what I wanted, sports talk, mid-market, blah,blah,blah, send tape and resume to this P.O. Box.”

McDowell got around 100 tapes sent to his mom’s P.O. Box from people across the country, including some from hosts he was familiar with. He got to look at every resume and listen to all the tapes to see exactly what people were doing. Granted, McDowell humbly says he doesn’t know if this idea helped him out in the end, but it gave him the access to really see what the competition looked like and what it was doing. 

“I would just try to set myself apart with little things,” McDowell said. “Like, perhaps, since you would send a cassette tape, maybe I had hand written something on it. I saw some people had really nice pre-printed things on them instead. I would try to do that, just to make it look more professional. Even some things people were putting on their resume that I didn’t think was worthy to put on a resume. Oh, this guy is putting that on there? Yeah, I’ll put my high school play-by-play experience on there.”

Mixed with some luck and great timing, McDowell’s intuition helped him get out of his career rut and into a major market. The only potential issue was that he spent the majority of his career working in small Ohio towns such as Athens, Marietta and Zanesville. The big break was in Dallas and he had no ties to the city. That’s when Bruce Gilbert came in. 

To tell the story of Gilbert’s incredible impact on McDowell, you first have to know how the two initially met one another. McDowell was working in Dayton and was actively trying to leave the market. He had a friend working in Cleveland that knew this, so he contacted him about a recent job opportunity he was turned down from, but had an amazing experience with the PD. 

“He said, I didn’t get this job opening in Dallas, but the PD called me,” McDowell said. “Bruce listened to my friend’s tape and gave him some tips on how he could improve. My buddy said, hey, you might not get the job, but at least you’ll get feedback.”

McDowell sent a resume and reel to Gilbert, in hopes of nothing more than to get feedback from a major market PD. The thing was, Gilbert liked what he heard and requested McDowell to send more. He wanted to hear an entire hour of his show in Dayton. Not long after, the two were in negotiations to bring McDowell to Dallas to host at 1310-AM The Ticket. 

The year was 1999 and The Ticket was celebrating five years on the air. If the job opportunity in a market like Dallas wasn’t intimidating enough, working at a station that had built up some longevity certainly was. The station was really starting to hit its stride and create an identity when McDowell walked through the doors for the first time. He was paired up with Bob Sturm and BaD Radio began. But like any new show, especially with a host without any ties to the city, it took a while before the audience accepted him. 

“I think that took probably a decade,” McDowell said. “Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but I was not accepted right away. Bob could tell you that. We used to call it a List of 100. I’m talking about people at the station and other media members in Dallas. There were at least 100 people that thought they should be sitting next to Bob and not me, because I was just some guy out in Dayton that nobody knew or heard of. I had been to two hockey games my whole life and the Stars were in the middle of a Stanley Cup run. Email was the main source of communication and I got my fair share of negativity. It took a while, for sure.”

Regardless of how McDowell felt the audience wasn’t embracing him during those early years, he never doubted for a second the support he got from Gilbert. Routinely, McDowell and Sturm were told by Gilbert they belonged at The Ticket and should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Even during airchecks, which had always been awkward for McDowell in his previous jobs. Gilbert came with advice but also incredible optimism for how the show was doing. There was a genuine belief from Gilbert in the success of the show. 

“He’s meant everything,” McDowell said. “He was amazing and he’s still amazing. He’s still the greatest. We wouldn’t have survived with anyone else. Bob and I were outsiders. The Ticket was already a thing. The station had been on air for five years and it was so intimidating. Bruce kept telling us we belonged here. That meant so much to me. The guy that matters believed in us.”

Behind Gilbert’s steadfast belief, the show started to pick up steam. In McDowell’s mind, two things in particular helped fuel the rise. First, was the famous on-air spat with ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso. In the early 2000’s Corso was on the air with BaD Radio and he didn’t particularly care for McDowell’s sarcasm. So much, that Corso called him a jerk on the air and left the interview after just a couple of minutes. The Ticket listeners made Corso the butt of the joke and even went as far to create signs with references to the interview, which were brought to College Gameday locations in the following years. The incident had an enormous effect on McDowell gaining the approval of listeners. 

Second, was the approval he gained with the popular afternoon show on the station, The Hardline

“Those guys really started to embrace us as a show that could do bits and be funny,” McDowell said. That and the Lee Corso incident, in my head, that was a big turning point for a lot of the listeners and I got a lot of good, positive feedback. I’ve always thought that was a key moment.”

BaD Radio never turned back after that. For several years, they helped grow the identity of The Ticket, which was sports takes but with incredible comedy and bits. But at some point, one way or another, every great radio show comes to an end. BaD Radio was no exception. A massive shakeup at The Ticket happened in 2020 after Mike Rhyner surprisingly announced his retirement. Sturm was sent to afternoons to co-host The Hardline with Corby Davidson and replace Rhyner. This left McDowell with a new partner. A situation he hadn’t been in for over 20 years. 

“I was very scared in the beginning,” McDowell said. “Bob and I had great chemistry and we were friends, both on and off the air. Then it was, well maybe the only reason we ever had any following was Bob? I didn’t really believe that, but maybe people will just revolt against this. The great thing is Jake (Kemp) and I had already been working together for 10 years. He was the producer and the main fill-in host. That made it a lot easier.”

McDowell, Kemp and the other voices of The Hang Zone let the show organically morph into its own identity. What was a scary new venture at first for McDowell is now something he’s incredibly happy with. In a way, it’s even given him the passion and stamina to continue to do sports radio for several more years. 

“It was a revitalized type thing,” McDowell said. “I wonder if that’s the case for Bob, too. When you do something for 20 years in a row, not that it was stale, but there’s a newness I like. It’s kind of a re-energized type thing.”

It’s a new time slot with a new co-host and a new show name, but the past two years have been enjoyable for McDowell. He doesn’t show any signs of wanting to leave The Ticket anytime soon. That would be a fitting story for someone that has played such a key role in The Ticket’s success over the years. McDowell would be quick to tell you the credit needs to mostly go to guys like Rhyner, Davidson, Sturm and others, but you can’t downplay what he’s meant to Dallas sports radio. One could make an argument The Ticket has the most well-known identity in sports radio. McDowell helped build that. 

“I’m happy to just be a tiny slice of it,” McDowell said. “The credit goes to the guys that started it. I credit Bruce and his support, but being in the middle of those guys when it was already a legendary station when it was just five years old, helped us succeed. That The Ticket is thought of in that way, and that I’m here as a piece of it, is great.”

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Jen Lada Has Built a Multiplatform Presence at ESPN

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about.”

Derek Futterman

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Jen Lada
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

When Jen Lada appeared on Around the Horn earlier in the month, she became the 58th panelist to be part of the program since its launch in 2002. Facing off against three other panelists from around the country, she garnered a victory in her on-air debut and elicited plaudits from her colleagues. Throughout the program, Lada demonstrated her deft sports knowledge and nuanced opinions that have crafted her into a venerated, skilled reporter at the network.

Although she had appeared on many ESPN programs previously, Around the Horn represented a show to which she wanted to contribute for many years. In fact, she has memories of watching the show just out of Marquette University and remarking about its brilliance and ingenuity.

Utilizing reporters with comprehensive knowledge of various sports who have chronicled several events, the show provides them an opportunity to give their opinions on issues and engage in debate with their contemporaries. Lada earned a spot on the show by being persistent, continuing to express her proficiency in commentary and sports discussion. The journey to arrive at this stage of her career, through which she has realized high-level assignments and a presence both at the local and national level, required adaptability and fortitude, and she continues to never take opportunities for granted.

“It’s great that I won, but it just sets the bar really high for the next time I go out there, which is not something I’m afraid of,” Lada said. “I love a challenge, and I love proving to myself that I can keep trying new things and doing new things well, and I hope that if people see me as some sort of example in the industry, that that’s what they walk away with.”

The approach adopted by Lada within her multifarious career ventures is to develop and maintain versatility, always innovating within her approach to content. As she looks to build off her initial victory on Around the Horn, she aims to be more compendious in her discourse and applying a more succinct approach. Making the adjustment in order to deliver compelling, distinctive points quickly differs from her other work, but it is all ultimately centered on sports.

While studying at Marquette University, she observed her classmates having a conversation about the men’s basketball team and what had happened in a recent game. Lada, who at the time was dating a player on the team and cheerleading at games, began to give her thoughts and was subsequently asked if she had ever considered sportscasting.

“I didn’t know that women could be sportscasters,” Lada said. “It wasn’t on my radar as a real career that women held because there were so few of them at the time doing it, and so once I realized that that was something I could do, then I kind of turned all my attention to, ‘Well, how do I make this happen?’”

As Lada began to complete internships and navigate through the media industry, she learned to develop a thick skin and refined her conduct. Out of school, she had completed a year of a non-paid sports internship and was waitressing on the side to pay the bills. The first interview she took for a job at a television station in a top-10 market ended with her being sexually harassed. It was a jarring experience that disappointed Lada because of her propensity to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it also forced her to evaluate her own disposition.

“I think it’s only natural that you wonder how you contributed to the circumstance or what you could have done differently to maybe not put yourself in that space,” Lada said, “but I was very lucky that when I told my family about what had occurred, they very quickly knocked any notion of that out of my head.”

In navigating the industry with good intentions, Lada recognized that it is not her fault if other people fail at treating others professionally and create a misogynistic work environment. Receiving the lesson early in her career has made her more aware of the people to avoid, and she remains wary of advice given to women in the industry that they should just be nice. Lada was recently on a panel where someone advised a broadcast class that being nice would result in things working out for them in the future.

“I felt myself cringing internally because I don’t think that that is a luxury women are afforded,” Lada said. “I don’t think – maybe now is different, but when I was coming up, and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there were people who preyed on niceness. And so the way that I would tweak that is to be professional; to carry yourself in a professional manner and recognize that sometimes being ‘traditionally nice’ puts a target on your back to be mistreated, and the best thing you can do is alert those people who would see you as a target that you’re not going to fall victim to that or you refuse to be victim to that.”

Lada joined ESPN in 2015 where she was hired to contribute to Colin Cowherd’s radio program. When Cowherd left the network and joined FOX Sports on a full-time basis, she started co-hosting a new, national program alongside Jorge Sedano. The show, however, had an evanescent run and left her feeling as if she had failed.

It took her a full year to recognize that she had been involved in a series of circumstances and decided to enact the necessary change, asking producers for advice and attending seminars. One of these was an interviewing course hosted by journalist John Sawatsky where he synthesized the art of the craft. Akin to when she was in college, she overheard in passing that the network needed more women in the features space.

“I was fortunate enough to have done a lot of features during my time in Milwaukee because we had a 9 p.m. newscast that required a local sports feature every night of the week, so between our three-person department, we had to fill that timeslot,” Lada said. “I had done a lot of lengthy sports features in Milwaukee [and] had a good foundation of what that job required.”

The meeting led to Lada doing features on an interim basis at the network and later granted her a spot on College GameDay, where she works as its features reporter. Lada presents stories every week to the audience that go beyond the gameplay and divulge a bigger picture.

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about,” Lada said. “One of the things that has occurred to me over the last few years is just what a skill is required to do that job well because not only are you preparing questions to ensure that you have all of the details and information, you’re also gathering perspective on what they’ve been through – the adversity and the situation that has led them to where they are now.”

Lada recently found herself in a high school classroom at 8 a.m. sitting with other students taking the ACT standardized test. She had to complete the exam as punishment for finishing last in fantasy football at ESPN Milwaukee this past season. After four hours, Lada emerged from the school and revealed her score this past week on the Jen, Gabe, and Chewy morning show. Hosting the local program alongside Gabe Neitzel and Mark Chmura, she has established chemistry over almost four years in the three-person format discussing hyperlocal topics.

“I try to be conversational,” Lada said. “We don’t lean on stats – obviously, we want to be accurate, and we want to be, again, fair to the subjects we’re talking about, but we try to also just be friends who are talking about what’s going on on any given day on the Milwaukee [and] Wisconsin sports scene.”

In balancing a variety of different roles, Lada has tried to master everything that she is doing, refraining from being content with her abilities. Although working in local radio regularly has been a newer role for her, she has grown into the job and has co-hosts who understand the subject matter and allow her to utilize her strengths.

“I just want to keep learning,” Lada said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done, [and] I’m not complacent about the skills I have. I’m always interested in adding more jobs to the résumé, and I think that in this industry, you’re rewarded for versatility.”

Once College GameDay commences, Lada adds the responsibility of feature reporting on that program to her schedule and continues making appearances across additional ESPN programming. Lada hosted the Friday edition of College Football Live last season and has also filled in as a host on shows such as First Take and SportsCenter. Moreover, she continues to complete projects for SC Featured and is working on a documentary for E:60 scheduled to premiere later in the summer. 

Lada aims to keep showcasing her indefatigable work ethic and passion for the craft without slowing down. Whether it is hosting a podcast, taking part in more panels or writing essays, she is open to exploring new forms of disseminating stories.

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience rattling around my brain, [and] I think the next iteration is figuring out a way to continue passing those experiences on to the next generation.” Lada said. “I don’t ever want to gatekeep the secrets of success – I think that’s selfish – so as I continue to do the media work, I think the next phase for me is figuring out how to pass a lot of these lessons on to future broadcasting generations.”

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Local Radio Advertisers Can Become Experts with Hosted Shows and Interviews

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of people talking on the radio

When looking for that extra edge for local radio advertisers, packaging radio commercials with an “expert” client-hosted talk show or interviews on your local shows or newscasts can be a game-changer. This strategy can build long-term business relationships with suitable clients, such as lawyers, business accountants, agents, psychologists, or sports handicappers. These professionals can provide valuable editorial contributions to sports and news stations. Of course, the expert must have good communication skills, be comfortable speaking their mind, and be ready to be the face of the business.

The radio commercials can tout the expertise the person has and give a call to action for listeners to move on. You can often find these experts on social media writing blogs or doing a series of vignettes about their business. For these types of clients, engaging in local radio news interviews or hosting a 1-2 hour talk show can enjoy several advantages:

Visibility and Brand Recognition

Visibility and Brand Recognition: Regular appearances on local radio help the expert become a well-known figure in the community. This visibility can lead to increased recognition and brand awareness and is a much faster track than just blogging on social media. Attorney Bill Handel and his ” Handel on the Law” show have created a directory business for Handel.

Public Trust and Credibility

By sharing their expertise and providing timely insights, the expert can build trust and establish credibility with the audience. Being perceived as an expert can enhance any client’s reputation and create top-of-mind awareness needed to lead business categories.

Client Acquisition

Listeners impressed by the expert’s knowledge and demeanor may seek their services. This exposure can lead to new clients who might not have been reached through other forms of advertising and give credibility to the expert who uses social media.

Community Engagement

Engaging with the local community through radio shows helps experts connect with potential clients more personally. This can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Question and answer segments can lead to deeper connections.

Educational Outreach

The expert can educate the audience on various issues, which can empower the audience. An informed audience is more likely to recognize when they need the expert’s assistance and whom to contact.

Stand Out in a Crowd

Stand out in a crowd: Being active on local radio can set the expert apart from competitors who may not use local radio. Often, the local shows or interview segments are exclusive to the expert.

Immediate Audience Feedback

Interacting with the audience through call-ins or live questions provides immediate feedback and allows the expert to address common concerns directly in real-time. The expert can be of service NOW.

Professional Development

Regularly discussing current topics can keep the expert sharp on trends and issues, contributing to their ongoing professional development.

Networking

Local radio stations often have a vast network of listeners and other professionals. This can open doors to new professional relationships and opportunities for collaboration. The station also provides a loyal audience who typically don’t follow the expert on social media. But they may start to after hearing the expert.

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

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‘We Need To Talk’ is Insightful, Intelligent Conversation on CBS Sports Network

The show is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

John Molori

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A photo of the women who host We Need to Talk on CBS Sports Network
Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports Network

CBS Sports Network’s ‘We Need To Talk‘ features a rotating roundtable of female sportscasters offering their views on a variety of topics in sports. The premise is important. Female voices in sports need to be heard. They bring perspective, weighty conversation, and thoughtfulness to each discussion.

Over the past few years, women have made major strides in being heard and seen in sports media whether it is hosting, commentary, reporting or play-by-play. This is a good trend, but We Need To Talk is about more than just female talking heads. It’s about insight, depth, and needed attention to athletes and sports that do not bask in the mainstream limelight.

This particular episode featured host AJ Ross joined by Summer Sanders, Katrina Adams, and Renee Montgomery. It was an eclectic and accomplished group with Ross, an experienced and versatile reporter, Sanders, the erstwhile U.S. Swimming star and a broadcast veteran, Montgomery, the former WNBA star, activist, and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and Adams, former tennis player, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, and chair of the US Open.

Montgomery got the conversation going looking back on the Celtics winning the NBA Championship. She also made a telling comparison between the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, renewed in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and compared it to the current WNBA rivalry between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. It’s a valid comparison, and Montgomery brought it to life effectively.

The WNBA was up next with Montgomery talking about Cameron Brink, the LA Sparks’ rookie who is making a splash not only on the court, but on the social media and fashion scenes as well.

It should be noted that this episode of We Need To Talk was taped before Brink suffered a season ending torn ACL, but Montgomery’s point was clear. It is not only important to be a great player. Today’s athletes also need to use multimedia platforms to raise their profiles.

Adams segued into a discussion on Wimbledon and No. 2 ranked Coco Gauff. It was good to hear some tennis talk on the airwaves, but this is a hallmark of We Need To Talk. The show makes it a point to move beyond the front-page stories and hit angles and areas that do not get much coverage.

These ladies are not afraid to get in each other’s grills as well. Sanders actually interrupted Adams to start a discussion about the upcoming Paris Olympics, but Adams would not relent and moved forward to an analysis of 2023 Wimbledon men’s singles winner Carlos Alcaraz.

The variety of sports continued with Ross starting a discussion about US track star Sha’Carri Richardson. I’ve been a fan of Ross for a long time. She does an expert job of mixing in her own commentary, while making sure all of the panelists on We Need To Talk get their due time. She’s also multitalented, seamlessly moving from reporter to host to debater.

We Need To Talk takes its roots in diversity with an all-female cast, but there is a deeper variety within the makeup of the cast. Sanders is a longtime veteran of sports, sports broadcasting, and entertainment. Ross is in the prime of her journalistic career. Adams brings perspective as an athlete, administrator, and leader, and Montgomery offers a fresh and contemporary style with her commentary.

Block 2 of the show featured Montgomery and Ross interviewing Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave women’s professional soccer team. Girma was named 2023 US Soccer Women’s Player of the Year, the first defender to ever win that award. This is what We Need To Talk offers those who watch the show. It is almost like a smaller scale, studio version of the classic Wide World of Sports on ABC, “spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport.”

The interview was managed well with Ross asking meaningful questions and Montgomery enthusiastically following up with her thoughts and input. This edition of the program also featured a wonderfully produced feature story on USC basketball player Aaliyah Gayles.

The talented Trojan hoopster was on the fast track to basketball stardom when, in April 2022, she was shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Gayles required two emergency surgeries to save her life.

The pace, video, and sound bites in the package were equal parts frightening, sobering, and uplifting. Gayles literally had to learn how to walk again as the feature focused on her rehabilitation and eventual return to the USC lineup.

Coming back from a break, the panel engaged in a great discussion on the talent link between collegiate and US Olympic athletes. A graphic showed that 75% of Team USA athletes and 82% of United States medalists played an NCAA sport.

As the discussion expanded, Montgomery talked about the fact that in order to enter the WNBA, players have to complete four years of college or be of the age of someone who has completed four years of college. I actually did not know that. We Need To Talk passes my personal litmus test for important sports television, namely, it tells me something I don’t already know.

Bringing still another sport and recognizable female athlete into the fold, Dara Torres joined the show next for an interview. The 12-time Olympic swimming medalist talked about her new role as head coach of the Boston College men’s and women’s swim and dive teams. Sanders asked a solid question about how, as a world-class athlete, Torres will manage her expectations of the BC athletes.

 As sports continues to meld with social issues, so too does the subject matter on We Need To Talk. Ross introduced a segment on the National Gay Flag Football League. Again, kudos go to the show’s production team for a slick and enlightening feature story. Praise should also go to the program itself for expanding the boundaries of sports and opening up a whole new world of knowledge for viewers.

Following the feature story, Montgomery and Adams made a point that sports unite people and bring diverse groups and personalities together as one. Montgomery is a fast-developing on-air talent. Her wit, energy, and knowledge go far beyond the basketball court making her a rising star in sports media.

The program continued to bring sports and life together by connecting the June celebrations of Pride Month and Father’s Day with an emotional poem written by renowned DJ Zeke Thomas, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. This was part of the We Need to Listen segment of the program.

Let’s keep it real. We Need To Talk is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

The show consistently provides uncommon subject matter with an inimitable approach and tenor. Check it out when you get a chance and bring an open mind and a joy of sports. They need to talk, and we all need to hear them talk.

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