ESPN Chicago boss heads back to Boston after ‘amazing two years’

ESPN Chicago

On the same day the Chicago White Sox opened their playoff series, a top management change suddenly unfolded behind the scenes at the team’s radio home, WMVP 1000-AM.

Debbie Brown, vice president of marketing at Good Karma Brands and a 22-year veteran of the company, was named interim market manager of the ESPN Chicago sports/talk station.

Debbie Brown

The Milwaukee-based company has been operating ESPN 1000 under a local marketing agreement with the ESPN Radio unit of Walt Disney Co. since September 2019.

The front office shuffle Thursday was prompted by the resignation of Mike Thomas, who’d been Chicago market manager since just after Good Karma Brands stepped in. He’s leaving the company to return to Boston, where he’d spent 12 years as a program director before his move here.

His new job — as senior vice president and Boston market manager for Audacy — will put him in charge of a six-station group, effective November 1.

Mike Thomas

“We appreciate Mike’s time with us during a period of growth and innovation for ESPN Chicago and wish him the best,” Good Karma Brands said in a statement.

He may not have achieved the audience growth hoped for, but Thomas raised the prospects of ESPN 1000 with a number of moves, including acquisition of the White Sox radio rights, the addition of FM digital transmission via full-time simulcast on an HD2 channel, and an expansion of local programming. Most notable was the morning-drive partnership he created for hometown veterans David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood.

“Mike Thomas is simply the best programming mind I have ever worked with,” Kaplan said Thursday. “He is all about challenging his on-air talent to entertain and inform and to do it in a creative way.

David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood

“He gave Jonathan Hood and me an opportunity to do mornings, and over the past 16 months he has worked with us to perfect our craft and to do it a way neither of us had never done it before. I will miss working with him tremendously. Love that guy,” Kaplan said.

Thomas, a downstate Illinois native for whom radio long has been a family business (including his father and two siblings), considers his stint in Chicago as more than just another stop on a radio odyssey that took him from Springfield to Dayton to Indianapolis to San Diego and to Boston and back.

Chicago also marked his first job as a market manager.

“It was an amazing two years,” Thomas told me. “An incredible time of innovation at ESPN Chicago. Good Karma Brands is a best-in-class operator of world-class brands and I’m happy that I was part of it, even if only for a short time. I will take what I learned here and use it the rest of my career.”

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey ESPN 1000 tied for 22nd place overall with a 1.9 percent share and a cumulative weekly audience of 419,000. Among men between 25 and 54, the station ranked 11th with a 3.4 share. Among men between 35 and 64, it ranked sixth with a 4.4 share.

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