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Influential Sports Radio Programmer Tom Bigby Has Passed Away

“Legendary sports radio programmer Tom Bigby has passed away at the age of 77.”

Jason Barrett

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Tom Bigby

Sports radio has lost one of its most influential programmers. Tom Bigby, who helped Sports Radio WIP in Philadelphia, 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, and 105.3 The Fan in Dallas forge a path to consistent ratings success, passed away on Monday due to apparent heart complications. He is survived by his wife Phyllis, his two children and four grand children. He was 77 years old.

The former VP of Strategic Programming for CBS Radio was an on-air talent before making the move into management. He was seen by many as a trailblazer and dominant personality who believed strongly in the format needing to mix sports talk with guy talk. He also wasn’t afraid to get into it with talent, influence his radio station’s content direction and institute rules for callers. Those who’ve worked for him will point to Bigby’s belief that a caller should not be on the air for more than two-minutes. When that rule was broken, the studio hotline would ring.

In a piece on WIP’s website, a number of Bigby’s former colleagues took time to remember their ex-boss. Howard Eskin referred to the former WIP executive as a ‘character’ who understood what it took to be a good sports talk station but seemed to enjoy being the villain. Eskin went on to credit Bigby for shaping WIP and making it one of the best sports radio brands in America.

WIP stalwarts Rhea Hughes and Glen Macnow also reflected on their memories of their former boss. Hughes shared how grateful she was to Bigby for giving her an opportunity and toughening her up during an era when women weren’t regularly featured in sports radio. She also provided a hilarious tidbit about Angelo Cataldi having it negotiated into his contract that he didn’t have to talk to Bigby, which put her in the middle of having to endure Bigby’s wrath whenever he was frustrated with the morning show.

Macnow meanwhile pointed out that it was Bigby who gave him an opportunity to change careers in 1993 and team up with Jody MacDonald. He called Bigby the most important person in WIP’s history next to Cataldi, and highlighted his ability to find and develop talent. However, he too shared that Bigby enjoyed being a bully and his preference for doing sports talk radio a certain way, though successful, also had its fair share of warts.

Upon learning of Tom’s passing, a number of his former personalities and programmers have taken to social media to offer their condolences and share their favorite Bigby stories. Below are a few we took notice of.

I interacted a number of times over the years with Tom, mostly at conferences and thru social media. He was a frequent reader of BSM and complimentary of a number of the pieces I wrote on programming. He was also helpful sharing insights or additional thoughts on industry issues whenever I had questions related to stories I was working on.

What I appreciated about Tom is that he loved the radio business and had a strong vision for his brands. You could disagree with his approach, but he wasn’t going to change it because it worked. It’s no different than what we see in sports where coaches create an identity for their teams and stick to them win or lose.

What I’ll remember most about Tom in addition to his lengthy track record of success are two personal interactions. First, I was on the verge of starting BSM in 2015, and had written a few pieces for industry folks when he began reaching out. He liked the website and appreciated that I cared about the format’s history and was trying to give it the attention and respect it deserved. He shared a few compliments of my writing and ability to understand programming matters, and to earn that type of praise from one of the format’s best programming minds was very uplifting. I went back today to see how long we had been interacting thru Facebook Messenger and our discussions about radio extend to August 2015, right before BSM was born. So from day one, Tom was in my corner.

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The second memorable experience I’ll share came in 2006 when I flew to Detroit to interview for the PD job at 97.1 The Ticket. I was so excited about the opportunity that I started packing boxes and creating my playbook before leaving Missouri. The chance to work with Tom, Debbie Kenyon, Chris Oliviero, Dan Mason, and alongside amazing talent like Mike Valenti, Terry Foster, Doug Karsch, Scott Anderson, Jamie Samuelsen and Mike Stone had a lot of appeal, and I got on that plane convinced my next home address would be in Michigan.

But then I got off the plane and into Tom’s SUV and during the course of a twenty minute ride back to the radio station, he called the hotline three times to tell the producers to drop phone calls that he felt were on the air too long. I kept looking around for a camera, waiting to find out I was on an episode of MTV’s ‘Punk’d’ but none ever appeared.

Then we headed into the building and began talking shop. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Successful programmers win in different ways, and just because you have a different approach doesn’t make it right or wrong. Tom was committed to his approach, and anyone coming in to interview for the position was going to either adapt to his way of doing it or pursue other opportunities.

As Tom and I talked about the vision for The Ticket, it became clear to me that I wasn’t the right fit. He wanted non-stop calls, little production value, no interviews, content focused on very specific topics, and a PD who wasn’t afraid to make their presence felt, especially with sales if they dared enter the studio. Those who’ve worked for me know that I can be demanding, vocal, and I have my own views on shaping content, but Tom managed different than I did. Given his knowledge of the market, staff, and success of the brand, I knew that his formula was working, but I couldn’t see myself managing the same way and Tom knew that too.

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Later that day it became more obvious that although CBS Radio wanted Tom to pass the baton to someone else to run the station, he wasn’t ready to leave. Nor should he have at that time because the brand was producing some of the best results in the entire format. Tom would stick around for another year or two, eventually moving to Dallas, and making way for Jimmy Powers, who has since guided The Ticket to another decade of success.

Though he may be gone from this earth, Tom’s impact on the sports format is permanent. I just hope the man upstairs knows what he signed up for when he called Tom home. The programmer in him is going to have a few demands and suggestions on how to improve the listening experience in heaven. RIP Tom!

Sports Radio News

670 The Score Hosts Congratulate Mike Mulligan on Award From Loyola Chicago

“They’re giving me an award for correctly picking the Super Bowl on September 8th,” Mulligan joked.

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670 The Score morning host Mike Mulligan is being awarded the Father Finnegan Memorial Award from Loyola University Chicago this weekend, and some of his colleagues congratulated him on the air Friday morning.

The award is given “in recognition of outstanding humanitarianism and service to youth through athletics”. Mulligan — a 1984 graduate of Loyola University Chicago — will receive the award Saturday during the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony during a game against George Mason.

“Tremendous award,” co-host David Haugh said. “Proud moment for the show. Proud moment for you family.”

“They’re giving me an award for correctly picking the Super Bowl on September 8th,” Mulligan joked.

“That is fantastic,” Laurence Holmes said, while his co-host, Dan Bernstein, continued to say “wow”. “Congratulations. You shouldn’t be embarrassed. You should be proud.”

“I’m being celebrated for being old,” Mully joked.

“That’s not what that award says,” countered Holmes. “It says something completely different.”

The Mully & Haugh host eventually admitted he was appreciative of the award bestowed upon him by his alma mater.

“It’s a good thing. I’m very moved by it. Sister Jean will be there,” Mully said. “She has a book coming out with — I think — Seth Davis.”

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Sports Radio News

Colin Cowherd: Tony Romo Regressing Because He Loves Golf

“I’ve always felt like Tony Romo is one of those guys — and we all have somebody in our social circle like this — he got the golf bug. He’s had it for 15 years.

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The performance of CBS Sports NFL analyst Tony Romo has been a hot-button topic in sports media circles, especially after a widely-regarded lackluster performance during the AFC Championship Game. Colin Cowherd believes he knows why Romo has regressed.

During an episode of The Colin Cowherd Podcast, the sports radio host claimed golf is the reason behind Romo’s regression.

“Romo wants to be on the Tour. He literally wants to be on the Tour,” Cowherd said. “And what’s the first thing Aaron Rodgers does in the off-season? He goes and golfs, he loves it. Both, by the way, great golfers, especially Romo. But I’ve always felt like Tony Romo is one of those guys — and we all have somebody in our social circle like this — he got the golf bug. He’s had it for 15 years.

“Tony wants to be on the PGA Tour — but he likes the paycheck from CBS.”

Cowherd also added he hasn’t hired potential employees in the past if they told him they loved golf during the interview process, saying he has a theory that as men age they “get addicted to golf”.

“They’re on PGATour.com, they’re putting in the backyard, they’re thinking about it at work, they’re scheduling a trip to Scotland and they lose sight of their other job,” Cowherd said.

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Sports Radio News

ESPN Radio Adds Lakers Games As LeBron James Nears Scoring Record

“As of Friday, February 3, LeBron James is 63 points away from Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 career points.”

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The NBA’s all-time scoring record has stood for a long time. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, the current record holder, retired in 1989. LeBron James is on the verge of overtaking him though, and ESPN Radio wants to make sure it is part of history when it happens.

ESPN Radio has added two upcoming Lakers games to its schedule. The network will carry the national feeds of games on February 7 and 9. The first game is against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The second is against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Both games will be played in Los Angeles with a 9:30 PM Eastern tip. Marc Kestecher and Vince Carter will be on the call for both games.

As of Friday, February 3, LeBron James is 63 points away from Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 career points.

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