A legend passed away on Monday and outside of Philadelphia his name doesn’t mean a thing, but to the millions of people who listen to and digest sports talk radio in this country, he might just be the singular most important person to ever work at a sports talk radio station. His name is Tom Bigby, and in 1992 he was put in charge of a small 5,000 watt AM radio station with no ratings, no discernible future, and bad hourly brokered programming. Nearly 30 years later, WIP Radio remains a force in local sports radio broadcasting, spawning countless more sports/guy talk stations from coast to coast, and it never would have happened if not for the shear will, doggedness and bullying style of Tom Bigby.
I got to the station in the spring of 1993 to host nights and weekends with Garry “G” Cobb. Angelo Cataldi was doing mornings with Al Morganti and Tony Bruno, Jody McDonald and Chuck Cooperstein were doing middays, Steve Fredericks and Mike Missanelli had afternoons. About a month into my hiring we had the only all hands on deck staff meeting that I believe the station ever had. Every host was told to meet in a conference room at 1:00 and to this day I have no idea who was on the air to cover for the fact that every full time host was in the room. Bigby began to lay out his vision for what would make WIP not just successful but dominant. Phone calls, lots of phone calls none of them more than two minutes long and even better if they didn’t last a minute. He showed us that he had installed in the studio, the producer’s room and his own office a countdown timer with red, yellow and green lights on top. The green light lit up at the start of the call, the yellow light lit at 90 seconds, and dare you ever allow the caller to go 2 minutes the red light lit and if he saw it he would hang up on the caller from his own office. He had the station engineers rig it so he could not only hang up on a call himself but he could listen in to hear how the producers screened every call – he was a micro manager on steroids and we all grew to hate him for it.
At one point in the meeting Chuck Cooperstein raised his hand and said to the room and Bigby that if Texas was suddenly the #1 ranked team in college football that it was a story and we should want to talk to their head coach. Bigby told Chuck to shut up and then went off on him in one of the most demeaning and disrespectful rants I’ve ever heard, calling him the worst talk show host he had ever hired and that keeping him on the station was an act of charity.
It wasn’t long before Chuck was gone and Glen Macnow replaced him to work with Jody in middays. Bigby’s belief that guests killed ratings and that nobody wants to hear anything other than Eagles talk year round has been well documented in Philly, but it was his belief that in creating a talk show for men you should talk about all the things that men talk about not just sports – so that meant movies, women, drinking, and ultimately for WIP – the single most successful radio promotion of all time Wing Bowl.
Bigby then installed a green hotline button on the phone console so that whenever he called in to berate you for something you had said or done on the air you knew he was calling because the green light started to flash. There were times he would call the number just to remind you that he might be listening and to keep you on your toes. He led the station by being an overbearing bully, and it worked.
I was there at Club Egypt on Delaware avenue for the 2nd Wing Bowl, and I remember standing near the back of the stage with about 500 people crammed into the club. Bigby came up to me and told me to take note of who was there standing in line to get in before 6AM and to recognize that those people are “your audience and never be swayed by anyone who tells you that they aren’t.” My radio career changed that day as I came to understand the audience a whole lot better and how it’s far more important to deliver radio that your core audience loves and not to cater to or try to deliver content to the people who don’t like or get what you do. As Bigby would say, “Fuck them, anyone who cares enough to tell you that they hate you is listening to you.”
Bigby had created the concept of Guy Talk Radio that is now the norm in every major city in America. WFAN had created successful Sports Talk Radio and Mike and The Mad Dog are its unquestioned first stars, but WIP created and perfected the concept of guy talk/sports talk radio that is the present and future of the medium.
When I got the information that Norman Braman had agreed to sell the Eagles to Jeffrie Lurie I went to Bigby with it and before he would let me break the story he had me sit with Cataldi, a former respected newspaper journalist, to go over what I had and if it passed the smell test. In those conversations I learned the importance of how to break a big story and maximize the effects of such an opportunity for overall station success. When I was being threatened with a lawsuit from The Flyers over a report that Eric Lindross had missed a game for being hungover, it was Bigby who publicly defended me and my story, and privately put me through the ringer to confirm the validity of the story. He was a brow beating task master at his best but in holding you accountable for everything you did and said on his radio station, he made me and everyone else who ever worked there infinitely better at what we do.
Bigby had a sense of humor too. I would have to endure early morning phone calls form him yelling at me and demanding to know what I had said on his radio station the night before only to let me sweat for a few minutes before telling me he was just kidding and hadn’t even heard the show. I was in Dallas getting ready to do an Eagles pre-game show from my hotel room because Infinity Broadcasting at the time didn’t have a station for me to broadcast from in Dallas. Two minutes before I went on the air there was a knock at my door. It was Bigby dressed in his typical all black Johnny Cash clothing, and as I opened up the show, he started jumping up and down on my bed trying to distract me. The sight of a 400 pound Bigby bouncing up and down on my bed was for sure distracting. After 5 minutes he said ‘have a good show’ and walked out. Afterwards he called me to invite me to have brunch with him and his wife in the hotel restaurant, and he dead panned to me that he thought I had a good show but seemed a little distracted during my open and that I should work on being more prepared for future shows and then he never mentioned it again.
I left WIP in 1997 to pursue an opportunity to be syndicated and frankly because I was upset that I had not been given a better time slot after 4 years of doing nights. Three years later I was in Denver doing mornings at KBPI when Bigby called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do middays. The timing was interesting as I had just started at KBPI, my wife was pregnant and we were contemplating a move back to the East Coast. The ratings came out and for the first time in my life I was the #1 ranked morning drive host in a major market. One week later I resigned to move back to Philly thinking I was going to do middays at WIP and when I got there Bigby didn’t give me the job. He concocted some convoluted story of how the midday show just got decent numbers and he felt he owed it to them to give them another ratings period to grow. He instead offered me a job to host the Monday night Brian Mitchell show for $200 a show and all the part time work I wanted. Truth be told I was moving back to Philly anyway but I was reminded of how ruthless Bigby could be and I would be again one more time.
In the Fall of 2001, I was doing mornings at WNEW when the station hired Bigby to be a consultant. His first big decision was to fire and replace me with Scott Ferrall. This was the day after the station holiday party which he insisted I go to so that we could all enjoy each others company a few months after the horror of the 9-11 attacks on our city and country.
The last time I saw Tom was at a radio convention that I had been asked to speak at. I didn’t know that he would be there and when I caught sight of him I was eager to rub it in his nose that Boomer and I were #1 in the ratings on WFAN but before I could he grabbed me and gave me a huge bear hug and told me how proud he was of me. While I’m not sure if I believed him, it meant the world to me because his opinion and blessing was something I yearned for since the day I met him in March of 1993.
Tom should be credited with creating the blue print of how to successfully program a radio station for men, young and old, and how to connect with the community and tap into the passion of the local fans without apology. I hated Tom, but I would have never had anything close to the career success I have been so fortunate to enjoy over the last 15 years if not for him. He may or may not be missed by the hundreds of hosts who worked for him but his legacy lives on in every city in America.
Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes
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.
Stephen Strom can be heard hosting ‘The Sports Talkers Podcast’ for Barrett Sports Media. In addition to hosting here, Stephen works as a broadcasting assistant for the Miami Heat and color analyst for Nova Southeastern. Additional career experiences include working for SiriusXM, performing analyst duties for Princeton basketball, and hosting shows for TalkNorth.com. You can find him on Twitter @SStrom_.
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.”
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.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
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.
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.
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.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.