Sandra Golden, the lone female voice on Atlanta sports radio, brings a smile and ‘fierce’ attitude

Sandra Golden usable

Sandra Golden behind the mic at 680/The Fan studios in Atlanta on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, December 21, 2015

During the baseball playoffs in October, 92.9 the Game host Mike Bell tweeted his displeasure seeing a softball player doing baseball analysis on ESPN, going after her with a sexist insult made famous by the film “Anchorman.”

After hurling potshots and defending his position with foes for hours, Bell made an on-air apology the next day and was suspended for three days.

Mike Bell got into a Twitter war during and after the Yankees/Astros playoff game. CREDIT: Twitter

Mike Bell got into a Twitter war during and after the Yankees/Astros playoff game. CREDIT: Twitter

Though his insult was aimed at Jessica Mendoza, the ridiculous nature of his comment wasn’t lost on Sandra Golden.

Golden — Atlanta’s only female sports talk radio host, heard daily on the Fan (680 on the AM, 93.7 on the FM) from 9 a.m. to noon — has survived in a male-dominated business by successfully battling this prevalent attitude about women in sports media.

“His argument makes about as much sense as saying men can’t be gynecologists,” Golden said. “Most of the men in TV and radio have never been professional athletes themselves.”

At the same time, she is actually friends with Bell and called him soon after the kerfuffle happened. “I said, ‘Hang in there. That “Anchorman” line is funny. People are too serious.’ I’ve called him a meathead myself, but he really has a big heart.”

Bell, in return, calls Golden “a great loyal friend. I always loved hearing her laugh at my corny jokes back in the day when we were on mornings together. She’s the best.”

Golden has been in sports media for more than two decades, coming to Atlanta in 1997 after multiple broadcasting stints in Florida. She has built a reputation for her preparation, her sports knowledge and ability to wrestle with the big boys in their playpen. Before joining radio in 2004, she spent seven years at Fox Sports South covering the Atlanta Braves and ACC sports.

“She’s a sweetheart,” said Chipper Jones, the legendary starting Braves third basemen from 1995 to 2012. “It’s not easy to be a female in a professional locker room. She carried herself with the utmost professionalism. She always had a huge smile on her face.” (Golden said she was “kind of tough on him, but he was always respectful.”)

Golden is part of “The Front Row,” a show that features bombastic veteran host Stephen “Steak” Shapiro and soft-spoken former Atlanta Falcon Brian Finneran.

On the show, the Buckhead resident plays like the sassy older sister to the two younger men. “It’s almost annoying how happy she is in the morning,” Finneran said.

She also possesses what she calls a “loud cackle,” which she tried to suppress when she first started on sports talk radio station 790 the Zone as the news update person for the morning show. But Shapiro told her that this was part of who she was, so let it rip!

David Dickey, who runs the Fan and hired Golden in 2010, said he loves the trio’s chemistry. “They can poke fun at each other, but it’s not mean-spirited. They can laugh at each other and themselves. Sandra is very comfortable in her own skin.”

Ray Rice wants back in to the NFL. Getty Images.

Ray Rice wants back in to the NFL. Getty Images.

Occasionally, she’ll get hot on a subject such as athletes committing domestic violence. When the video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his fiance in an elevator leaked last year, she couldn’t believe Rice had defenders. “I didn’t hold back calling it reprehensible behavior,” she said. “Nancy Grace was calling me about it. It definitely bothered me more than most men.”

And when she heard last week that Rice was rallying to get a job back with the NFL, she wasn’t impressed, noting he had just had a subpar year. “He can get a job at UPS or RaceTrac,” she said on air Friday. “You can earn a living. Listen. If he was such a great running back, he’d be back on a team. I don’t think the NFL would get all high and mighty if he could play.”

rachel_baribeau_bioTo a younger generation of female sportscasters, “she’s like the godfather,” said Rachel Baribeau, a college football host and analyst for SiriusXM and a sideline reporter for the ACC Network. She spent 10 months in 2012 and 2013 as a co-host on 92.9/The Game.

Baribeau, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., said Golden “placed a wing over me” and inspired her to do the same with young women entering sports media. “What happens more often than not, women in this business become catty and mean and terrified you’ll take their jobs,” she said. “Sandra came along and was nothing like that. She was cool and kind and killing it. She’s fierce.”

Golden, who grew up in Florida and credits her father, Stan, for instilling in her a deep love of sports, said veteran Fox Sports NFL sideline reporter Pam Oliver mentored her when she was coming up the ranks and she pays it forward herself.

Oliver admires Golden for excelling in sports talk, where she is on air 15 hours a week spouting her opinions on a vast array of sports subjects (though mostly football, given the interests of the listeners.)

“That takes stamina and range,” said Oliver, who meets with Golden regularly to vent and share experiences. “I’m a one-trick pony in comparison. I know she spends hours preparing each day, watching games, constantly researching players. She has definitely persevered.”

Kristen ledlowKristen Ledlow, a host on NBA TV, said female sports media types gather every couple of months to dish dirt and talk sports. They also have a text group and share stories and provide support. She recalled advice Golden gave her when she tried sports talk on 92.9/The Game in 2013: “Make sure your voice is heard. Never become the giggling girl on the third microphone. That just becomes a stereotype of the show.”

(She is not a fan of Bell, by the way: “I was actually the butt of a couple of his immature cracks. I refuse to do his show.”)

Golden is rarely the focal point of controversy on “The Front Row.” That would be Shapiro. But even then, she has to regularly block nasty, often sexist harassers from her social media and email. “When I had to put my cat down, people would write, ‘Go (bleep) yourself. I’m glad your cat died!’ People are crazy nuts about sports. The name calling? I’m used to it.”

Last Friday, when Golden said after she made a passing comment that former UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo may use his new job at Colorado State as a stepping stone for a bigger job, she received serious blow black on social media. On air, she said, “I believe the c word was used. Bimbo. People are crazy at this time of the year!”

She has come a long way from her first gig on radio talk in 2004 as the update person on Mayhem in the AM on the Zone. “I was fifth banana in a room with too many bananas,” she said. And when she received her first full-time gig on mornings at 680/The Fan in 2010, she struggled to find her rhythm in another crowded room. “The chemistry didn’t work.”

In 2012, she was moved to mid-mornings with Finneran and former Star 94 host Ray Mariner. She felt comfortable in a bigger role with a more supportive group of guys.

Two years ago, Shapiro – fired from the Zone after a rude bit about a football player with ALS went viral – became available and Dickey made another change, dropping Mariner and adding Golden’s former boss Shapiro.

“I loved Ray but this made me beyond belief happy,” Golden said. “I knew this would work.”

Today, she feels deeply grateful she gets to talk about sports all day for a living.

“I just interviewed Will Smith,” said Golden last week, talking about Smith’s upcoming film about the NFL, “Concussion.” “I do wish sometimes my brain was full of more important things in life, but I love my job and the people I work with. If the hardest thing I have to do is talk about domestic violence in the NFL, that’s pretty cool.”

Sandra Golden at Stats earlier this month with former producer Jason Cofar (left) and co-host Brian Finneran. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

Sandra Golden at Stats earlier this month with former producer Jason Cofar (left) and co-host Brian Finneran. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

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