Whenever Ohm Youngmisuk and Prim Siripipat appeared together on ESPN’s “First Take” as fill-ins for the morning show’s regular cast, they joked that it became the “Thai First Take(over).” Siripipat, an anchor for the network, and Youngmisuk, who works as an analyst covering the NBA and NFL in New York, are both Thai American.
“So one day we were having lunch and we talked about how cool it is for us two to be Thai and be at ESPN and do things together like First Take,” Youngmisuk told NBC News over e-mail. “I told her we should try to do an Asian sports podcast together and bring other Asians at ESPN into the mix.”
Siripipat had recently talked to Cary Chow, a fellow ESPN anchor, about doing just that.
“We talked about how it would be the first podcast hosted by Asian-Americans at ESPN," Chow told NBC News. "We weren't sure how many national networks have given Asian Americans that platform, but we thought we could provide a different and entertaining perspective on sports, not necessarily because we're Asian, but because we are who we are. “
"My hope is that we can continue to bring a fresh and unique approach to sports topics, create more of an awareness about Asian stereotypes, perhaps inform people what it was like to grow up Asian and around and in sports here."
Siripipat told NBC News over e-mail that Michael Smith and Jemele Hill’s podcast “His and Hers” served as an inspiration for their podcast, "Fresh Off the Bench," as well as ESPN’s support of efforts to increase diversity within the network.
“What prompted us to take action was the recent growth within the ESPN Podcast Department, which does a fantastic job at catering to a variety of sports fans whether it is sports specific, race, culture or ethnicity,” Siripipat said. “We also saw that this would be the first of its kind, a groundbreaking venture – the first sports show ever to be hosted solely by Asians.”
The two anchors and Youngmisuk decided to set their initial podcast around April 4, the day Yao Ming entered the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Siripipat convinced ESPN’s senior director of radio programming operations, Pete Gianesini, to take a chance on the project, and the team worked with producer Josh Macri and ESPN.com deputy editor Michael Huang to make their vision come to fruition.
The first episode of their podcast was published on April 1. In the half-hour-long show, the trio discusses Ming’s cultural impact and his induction into the Hall of Fame, why the term “oriental” is offensive, and, in a bit called “That’s So Asian,” why Asian families don’t wear shoes in the house.
All three hosts told NBC News that while “Fresh Off The Bench” is the first sports podcast hosted by Asian Americans, they hope to reach a broader audience.
“Ultimately, I don't want to be known as just 'The Asian Podcast,' which inevitably it will be based on our appearance, but I hope that we can become an entertaining and enlightening podcast for all listeners, much like ‘His & Hers,’” Chow said.
Siripipat believes that the dynamic between the hosts is integral to the show. “Although we share many similarities, especially in regards to our backgrounds, there are still many differences between us three that I believe will lend an intelligent, dynamic, well-rounded discussion regardless of the topic,” she said, noting the mix of occupations, backgrounds, and genders. “The unique blend between our similarities and differences will be something no one has ever heard before whether we are talking about sports, current events, entertainment or our culture.”
Youngmisuk said that he hopes the show will alleviate the “dearth of programming geared for Asians and Asian Americans," while providing a fresh perspective on the sports world to non-Asians. "My hope is that we can continue to bring a fresh and unique approach to sports topics, create more of an awareness about Asian stereotypes, perhaps inform people what it was like to grow up Asian and around and in sports here,” he said.
Siripipat said that another important aspect of the project, for her, is getting to work with Chow and Youngmisuk, who she considers "family." "It is an absolute rarity to get to do the thing you love AND do it with the people you love," she said. "How do I feel? To put it simply, I feel lucky."