Tony and Robin Smallmon weren’t surprised when their sports-minded only child Michelle landed a job four years ago on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis. She was producing a show and doing on-air banter with the likes of the former St. Louis Rams’ player D’Marco Farr, sportscaster Randy Karraker and veteran sports writer Bernie Miklasz.
But when Michelle got the call this summer to move to “The Mothership,” ESPN’s network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., the family response was divided.
“My dad was very excited and my mom started sobbing,” said Michelle. No more Sunday family dinners together. “She thinks I’m never coming home.”
Michelle spent the past four years with 101 ESPN in St. Louis, where she produced and did some on-air work on the “Bernie Miklasz Show” and “The Fast Lane” with Karraker, Farr and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson.
“I was very happy here,” she said. But when the opportunity arose to interview for a job in Bristol, she took it. She started in July and eventually settled into producing a weekday evening radio show called “Jorge & Jen.” It debuted in late September, but is currently not airing in St. Louis. It can be heard on www.espnradio.com, the ESPN app, SiriusXM, Apple iTunes, Slacker Radio and TuneIn.
“When I got there, I was not assigned (to a show). I was supposed to take ‘College GameDay.’ But they thought I would be better served with a Monday through Friday show. It’s a much more prominent position.”
A graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in broadcast journalism, her first job out of college was entry level, as a production assistant with KSDK-TV.
“I always wanted to write. I wanted to be a sports writer,” Michelle said.
But she liked to talk sports, too — “I’m a Chatty Cathy” — so she found herself having off-air conversations with KSDK sportscaster Frank Cusamano and sports director Rene Knott. When Knott started doing a weekly sports wrap-up show, he asked her to sit in and make some comments, Michelle said. She also was handling remote production on the sidelines at Rams games.
A fan of sportswriter Bernie Miklasz, she took note when ESPN radio came to St. Louis and he got his own show. Then Bernie’s producer moved on.
“I had never produced radio, but I wanted to work with Bernie,” Michelle said. “I thought I would always be in TV. … When I got the call, plans change and you roll with it.”
He took a chance with her, she said, as producer of “The Bernie Miklasz Show,” then “The Fast Lane.” Sitting in the booth running the shows, the hosts would throw her questions or ask for comments, and in 2014, she began hosting the weekly “Rams Playmakers” show, featuring in-depth interviews with various players.
“I was dealt the best hand of cards with Bernie,” she said. “He’s been my biggest supporter and champion.”
Bernie said he knew she was the one for him “about five minutes into the interview. … She was so smart and witty and vibrant. … And she knows sports. She loves sports. She understood how much our teams and athletes mean to the community,” he said. “That combination of knowledge, spark and sincerity was just what I wanted. She had no experience producing but I didn’t care. The mechanics of producing can be taught and learned. But you can’t teach someone to have flair. You can’t install an abundant personality.”
D’Marco showed her what acceptance is all about.
“One of the best guys ever. He treated me like one of the guys,” she said. “He said, ‘I forget you’re a girl sometimes.’ My gender isn’t in play.”
But Bernie says being a woman still comes into play.
“To be honest it bothers me that she doesn’t have her own radio show. She would be better at it than 75 percent of the people that host sports talk radio. She is a rare talent,” he said. “It infuriates me how the sports media industry still has a way of putting women into a certain slot. … Michelle can hang with any guy in terms of sports knowledge. She can hang with any guy in dishing out zingers and taking shots. When she produced my show she had a chance to contribute on-air, and listeners loved her. Men liked her. Women liked her. She earned across-the-board respect. She is a wonderful producer, but she should be a star. She’s that good.”
For now, her job in Bristol involves behind-the-scenes production and on-air skills to keep the show moving and on time.
Michelle says she’s very organized, a necessary skill for a producer. “You have to be very Type A and have your ducks in a row, to have everything set up in advance,” she said of getting a show ready for broadcast. “You have to be just as prepared or better prepared than the host.”
Which means long before she dons the big headset and sits down to run the show, she spends hours doing research, setting up guest bookings and web development. She frequents Twitter and Instagram, too.
16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.