A few years ago, I all but abandoned casual music radio. As much as I loved to hear Lil Wayne mumble through a 4 minute song or Drake sing me to sleep during rush hour traffic, I had to change my radio preferences. I decided that I would listen to what I love the most, Sports. Now, I listen to at least one hour daily of sports radio during my commutes to work, dropping off the kids to school, or just tuning the wife out from a conversation about her daily gossip (sorry babe!). Sports radio has become my drug of choice.
At one point, ESPN’s flagship show First Take was my addiction. When co-antagonists Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith would go at it I would sit for the entire two hours collecting topics for my friends and I to debate. The original show Cold Pizza would feature Bayless sparring against numerous opponents. It showcased Bayless’s wit and candor. Every so often, a young Smith would make an appearance and give Bayless a formidable opponent. Smith, at the time, was extremely hungry and knee deep in gathering intel on the prominent athletes. They soon became quite the team.
As the years have gone by, so has the chemistry of Bayless and Smith. The show, for a lack of better words, is boring. I believe they fail to captivate the late morning sports fans because the show wildly inconsistent and mundane. Smith has become a top ESPN celebrity and rarely appears on set with Bayless. Even though Bayless is the original torchbearer, Smith has become just as important. Now he is often at a remote location or someone has to fill in for him. Include the fact that Bayless has become so predictable with his stances and segways and we can tell that it’s just not working.
The moderator, Cari Champion had a very rough start to begin her tenure with ‘First Take’. She seemed out of place and uncomfortable with the boisterous Bayless and arrogant Smith. and her development seemed hindered by their theatrics. Sometimes she could not interject effectively to move the show from topic to topic. When she did try to speak her mind early on, she was often talked over by the guys. Champion left the show in July and there were many people, including myself, that were extremely happy she escaped that situation to land at a better role with SportsCenter. Now Molly Qerim is left the fend for herself as Champion’s replacement.
The 10am to 12pm EST time slot is prime real estate on ESPN, and right now it’s being wasted. There needs to be a serious shake up of the ‘First Take’ team. Here are my top 3 candidates to replace one or more of the members of the show.
Moderator: Kate Fagan
Co-Hosts: Ryen Russillo and Bomani Jones
Kate as a moderator is great because she seems to have an unbiased view, but once her teeth sink in, she goes for blood. Russillo had a great run working alongside Scott Van Pelt. They never had a debate type of format but when they did disagree neither backed down. Russillo does have his own show with Danny Kanell and while the two get along great, I think he would do well debating.
Jones’ work on Highly Questionable with Dan LeBatard, as well as his show The Right Time, has given him the experience needed to make the adjustment to the debate forum. His Twitter activity is beyond hilarious, as he trolls followers daily. I think Bomani would excel at debating, as well as shedding light on social and racial issues like Smith has done in the past. This pairing would take some time for fans to adjust to but would be a great team.
Moderator: Prim Siripipat
Co-Hosts: Michael Smith and Dan LeBatard
I first heard of Siripipat this past April shortly after the Spain and Prim show debuted on ESPN radio. The show featured an all female cast and crew. The content of the show was informative and well structured. Siripipat would be a great moderator because she is gorgeous and has serious sports intellect.
LeBatard has taken over he radio slot that was once occupied by former ESPN employee Colin Cowherd. He and Jon “Stugotz” Weiner have a rather eccentric show that covers movies, music, and pop culture. Somehow he intertwines sports into his material but to the dismay of his listeners, it’s not enough. He has daily poll questions that range from “Does Stan Van Gundy look like a guy that eats a dozen donuts and then asks for a refund because there wasn’t enough creme in the middle?” to ” Is Dwight Howard a crybaby?” It makes for an interesting show as many of his callers accuse him of race baiting. Nonetheless, LeBatard is curiously entertaining and would present a polar opposite look to the tailored Michael Smith.
Michael Smith has been on the ESPN staff for quite sometime. He once was an insider in the same mold as Adam Schefter before transitioning to a television personality. He has honed his skills and you can see his maturation. Smith has a calm demeanor and is concise with his thoughts. I think that LeBatard’s antagonistic undertone would incite the rather nonchalant Smith and would create some great moments.
Moderator: Ryan Clark
Co-Hosts: Skip Bayless and various guests
To break up the female moderator dynamic, I believe Clark would make a great addition. He has appeared on the show numerous times and seems to be a favorite of Smith and Bayless. Clark definitely has more work to do as an analyst as he is only a year removed from being an active NFL player. He is a little more politically correct than is necessary but he wouldn’t need to be as opinionated as a moderator.
Skip Bayless didn’t make Stephen A. Smith a star, but Smith would even credit Bayless for pushing him into national prominence. Now Smith seems to have outgrown their show. The mutual respect between the two men is there but now they often sound feigned. If Bayless had different guests appear on the show he would not fall into a lull like when he speaks to Smith about LeBron James or the Dallas Cowboys. Bayless needs to be attacked verbally and intellectually daily to refrain from being redundant. His debates with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and former NFL player Chad Ochocinco (Johnson) are some of the best you will ever see.
Bayless often criticizes the heart and dedication of athletes. It would be great to see some of the players he has ridiculed have the platform to air their grievances to Bayless and attempt to outwit him. This format would also allow Smith to make guest appearances instead of juggling between ESPN NBA lead man and First Take co-host.