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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.

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

SURVEY: 16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming

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 Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

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Streaming Radio

According to Nielsen, All 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 its 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.

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Sports Radio News

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.

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MLB Radio

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.

Radio Listeners to MLB

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.

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Sports Radio News

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”

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Jeff Dean Show

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”

Jeff Dean Facebook

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.

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