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Remembering Tom Bigby

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.

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Remembering Tom Bigby

The following piece has been written by WFAN afternoon host Craig Carton. You can follow him on Twitter @CraigCartonLive or listen to him on WFAN.com.

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.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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