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Smacker Wants To Be The Next Miles On The Sideline

“If you can’t get better from talking to someone, then it’s just a conversation. It’s not a step in the right direction.”

Tyler McComas

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Interviewing a high-profile head coach after a game is nothing new to Smacker Miles. She’s done it for many years. Ever since she was a kid, she’s always had her own one-on-one time to ask the head coach at Oklahoma State, LSU and now, Kansas, anything she’s ever wanted to know about the game. Graciously, even though the questions were, at times, as basic as possible, the head coach has always treated each one with respect and given a thorough answer.

Les Miles is that head coach and Smacker is his daughter. 

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At the age of 10, Smacker Miles dressed up as a sports reporter for Halloween. Wearing her mom’s blazer and some random pants while holding a microphone, it was clear from an early age what her dream job was. Though she grew up with her father being in a high-pressure career field that often saw criticism from the media, Smacker Miles has never let negative attention deter her desire to pursue sports reporting as a career. For as long as she can remember, she’s always wanted to be where she grew up – standing on a football field. 

But even when you grow up with certain aspirations in life, there’s always a moment where you find your reasoning as to why you truly want to do something. Smacker Miles had that exact experience during the 2016 football season. It just so happens it came from someone who’s now a role model.  

“I’ll never forget what Maria Taylor did in 2016,” said Smacker Miles. ”She came to cover the LSU vs. Texas A&M game and it was when people were talking about my dad’s job. It was a very tough week for us. Maria came to town and on the sideline before the game, she said she really wanted to be here because she wanted to make sure that things were done right and that this story was told the right way. I remember that moment very clearly and being like, I know this is what I want to do and that’s why I want to do it.”

Though her full-time job is with a digital content company, Smacker Miles’ sports media career is quickly gaining steam. Since her dad took the head coaching job at Kansas last November, she followed him and the rest of the family to Lawrence where she now does freelance work for Jayhawk Insider through IMG. Smacker Miles can routinely be seen hosting videos through the official Kansas Football Twitter account with a Smack Talk feature that takes fans inside the football program with breakdowns and special access. It’s not standing on the sidelines as a reporter for the ABC Saturday Night Game of the Week but it’s still a good start for the 25-year-old. 

But as great as it is for Smacker Miles to be able to do what she loves around her dad’s football team, there’s the obvious question of dealing with KU’s losses as a media professional. She’s not doing a postgame radio show or writing a column for the newspaper that has to be unbiased, but it’s still an interesting line to walk.

Sure, she’s seen her dad lose football games before but never as a member of the media covering the team he coaches. When Coastal Carolina left Lawrence last Saturday with a 12-7 win over the Jayhawks, it was the first instance of that exact scenario. So, with the unique situation, was it one of the tougher losses she’s had to endure? 

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“Honestly, no,” Smacker Miles said. “I’ve always been pretty involved with the teams, because when we were little, we would be forced to go to recruiting events even if we didn’t want to. So I’ve always seen the guys all the way from Junior Day to when they graduate or go to the NFL. The level of investment that you have in the game is obviously going to reflect your joy or disappointment from that game. I would say I’ve always been very bonded with the teams, so this one hurts but I think they all hurt very similarly.” 

It’s situations such as these that make having a front row seat to your father’s job tough to deal with. But though there can be a small amount of bad, Smacker Miles has seen the good make up for it tremendously. It’s no surprise that it helps to be Les Miles’ daughter, especially when you have dreams and aspirations of being in sports media. Since her dad has coached in several high-profile games, it’s meant an opportunity to meet and interact with the best sideline reporters in the industry. 

“I’ve come across so many inspiring women in that role and I don’t have a negative thing to say about a single one of them,” said Smacker Miles. “I’ve met Erin Andrews and she was strong, bold, inspiring and quick witted. She stood up for my little brother one time because he ran on the field when they were painting it. Someone yelled at him and she said, ‘stop yelling at him, he’s a little kid.’ She was awesome. 

“Then there’s Holly Rowe, with the way she just lives her life. She’s just unbelievable. Every interaction with her, you have a story about, wow, she said this, or, she did that. She’s so humble. 

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“Recently I’ve made a connection with Lauren Sisler, who’s now with ESPN. I met her two years ago and she asked me for my number and then texted me. I just remember thinking, wow, I looked up to you so much and you want nothing from me and there’s only stuff that I can gain from you and you’re still looking out for me. 

“And Sam Ponder. She had little Scout with her and I just remember looking at my mom and telling her this is what I want.”

The sideline reporter position has changed so much, in a positive way, over the past decade. What was once another male dominated position on the broadcast team, talented women such as Erin Andrews have helped pave the way in the sports media industry. Currently, the sideline reporter position is filled with more talented women than it’s ever seen.

Smacker Miles is just one of the many names that represents the next generation of talented women in sports media. To her, it’s not about the fame or the money. It never has been. It’s the challenge and the dream that keeps her pushing. 

“I like the idea of preparing all week,” Smacker Miles said. “You’re not performing like I did athletically but still it’s the challenge and the motivation of knowing your stuff to be able to do well during the game. I did high school football last fall and that was the first time I actually got to try to do what I thought I wanted to do. You can’t say you want to do it until you’ve actually really done it, you don’t know. But I loved it and it was a great experience. It was a great level to start at because there’s a lot less ego involved in high school sports. Plus, the critics aren’t out too harshly when it’s local and its high school. To take in a game and be in a stadium and be paid to do it, that’s a dream.”

With media experience at The Longhorn Network during her college days at Texas and an internship with the Dallas Cowboys as a production assistant, for now, it’s about Smacker Miles waiting her turn and improving as a talent. Going back to having the advantage of being Les Miles’ daughter, her growth could be sped up due to the talented names in the industry she’s already formed a connection with. 

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“I like when people are very direct with me,” said Smacker Miles. “Tim Brando gave me a great reel critique in the sense that he was very direct, uplifting and kind, but also helped me make changes to it. If you can’t get better from talking to someone, then it’s just a conversation. It’s not a step in the right direction.”

From the outside, it seems Les and Smacker Miles have a unique father-daughter relationship. This was really evident when the two hosted the Les is More podcast with The Players Tribune during last football season. You usually don’t see a father and daughter hosting a college football podcast together, but the admiration and respect they have for one another really flowed and made for a great listen.

Though one is trying to resurrect a football program and the other is trying to reach the sidelines with a microphone in hand, it seems the two are working together to help achieve both of their goals. Smacker is not afraid to ask Les in-depth football questions and Les is not afraid to tell Smacker how to better use Twitter or get the media perspective on things. 

Growing up in a house with a dad that’s won a national championship and two brothers who have played college football at Power 5 schools is only a blessing for Smacker Miles. That life experience has put her well-ahead of the curve in terms of knowledge of the game and will only help when her opportunity arises. Many have paved the way before her, but don’t be surprised to see another Miles in the spotlight of college football in the not-so-distant future. 

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“People would think, that, as a female, I would be competitive with the other females,” said Smacker Miles. “But I find myself literally cheering for the girls. If there’s an all-male crew I’ll be like, mom, they have three guys in the booth and one on the sideline (Laughs). I wouldn’t even say that I’m like really mad about it, but it’s just like, I find myself cheering for any female, even if it’s one that I’ve never seen before, because I know how nervous you are to be down there. But when there’s an all-male crew, I’m like, c’mon, I know there’s a girl somewhere that knows football.”

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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BSM Writers

Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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BSM Writers

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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