A Positive Outlook: More Than a Girl in Sports Media, Julie Dobbs Is a Survivor

On Oct. 25, 2018, seemingly out of nowhere, it was as if a bomb had been set off in the Victory Park studio of 1310 The Ticket. BaD Radio, the highly rated sports station’s popular midday show starring Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell, was winding down its noon to 3 p.m. time slot with some casual conversation with the show’s newest member, Julie Dobbs. It initially seemed like an innocuous segment, but it got interesting when the highly sarcastic McDowell recalled meeting Dobbs many years before in the press box at a Dallas Stars game.

“Why do you remember that? Is it because you called me something?” Dobbs asked.

McDowell, audibly sensing something was up, inquired, “Why? Do you have a memory? I don’t think I did.”

“I remember a ‘press box hot’ comment,” Dobbs said, a little sheepishly.

What ensued following Dobbs’ sneak attack was nothing short of radio chaos, which in this case equaled radio gold. McDowell, an expert pusher of both envelopes and buttons, sounded dazed as he tried to recall what Dobbs referred to.

For the uninitiated: The Ticket is more of a guy talk channel than a strict sports station. There aren’t many sacred cows pardoned from the butcher’s block on any of 1310’s shows, with jocular riffing on sex, race, religion, celebrity, crime and politics as frequent as discussion surrounding the latest Dallas Cowboys loss. That formula has worked rather well. Over the past 25 years, The Ticket has become the most listened-to radio station in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has won three Marconi Radio Awards for National Sports Station of the Year.

As for the offending comment, press boxes are too often stuffed with middle-aged men whose physiques have seen better days. “Press box hot” is a left-handed compliment, like congratulating Serena Williams on being a decent tennis player “for a girl.”

Dobbs heard the remark in real time in 2010, and she had been keeping that explosive nugget safely stored for years, never knowing if she’d ever use it, let alone deploy it as one of McDowell’s co-workers.

“There’s no way I would’ve done that,” an incredulous McDowell said with his voice just slightly raised, following a bit of tense, nervous laughter. As Dobbs, McDowell and Sturm attempted to untangle the tale, one thing was clear: The new girl had earned her place in this radio-powered boys club.

At that point, Dobbs, a 12-year veteran of Dallas sports media, had been the station’s midday reporter, offering the twice-hourly sports updates known as “Ticket Tickers” for less than four months. The rest of the crew — Sturm, McDowell, producer Jake Kemp and board operator David Mino — had been together for several years. On top of that, Dobbs is the first full-time weekday female presence at The Ticket in more than two decades, when Kate Delaney (aka, the Sports Princess) and Jennifer Smith hosted short-lived nighttime shows in the station’s infancy.

Although she’s the youngest of the regular weekday Ticket hosts and Ticker reporters, Dobbs' journey has been fraught with perhaps longer odds and greater peril and uncertainty than any of her older co-workers.

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Julie Dobbs drops the puck at Hockey Fights Cancer Night right before starting chemotherapy.
courtesy of Julie Dobbs

I Wanted to Tell Sports Stories

From as early as Dobbs can remember, the 33-year-old Dallas native hasn’t been merely interested in watching sports. She had an eye toward becoming a sports broadcaster. Long before moving to Austin as an 8-year-old when her mom remarried, Dobbs grew to love watching sports because sports was part of the deal when it came to spending time with Nanny, Dobbs’ grandmother. Dobbs and older brother Chad would run down the street to “Nanny’s sports bar and grill,” as they called her grandmother’s house, to watch Juan Gonzalez and Pudge Rodriguez lead the great Rangers teams of the ’90s.

Though her father wasn’t the family’s sports nut, her stepfather, L.A. Williams, was. Williams was a maroon-bleeding Aggie, a graduate of Texas A&M. His specific type of fanaticism kept the sporting fires burning for the young Dobbs in place of the passion Nanny had nurtured before.

"I would be told to ‘be sure and dress appropriately and professionally,’ which is something I never heard a man be told to do." – Julie Dobbs

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Her fandom and grown-up dreams took shape as she made her way through Austin High School. On the advice of an older friend also interested in broadcasting, Dobbs set her sights on the University of Missouri, widely considered one of the nation’s top journalism schools. Dobbs knew then that the percentage of females among reporters making a living in sports journalism wasn’t large, but she was young, ambitious and hadn’t yet felt any sort of stinging, gender-based rebuke.

Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling? For Dobbs, it seemed simple. “I was obsessed with sports, and I wanted to tell sports stories,” she says now.

Upon graduating from Mizzou in 2007, Dobbs landed the sort of sweet gig many of her fellow fresh graduates likely would kill for. Dobbs headed back home to work for the Dallas Cowboys as a reporter for a handful of the team’s syndicated television shows. This choice entry into sports broadcasting did begin to reveal, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that things were going to be different for a woman working in a man’s world.

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Board operator David Mino (left) and producer Jake Kemp joke with Julie Dobbs at The Ticket.
Nathan Hunsinger

“For starters, there was the matter of me being young, blonde and female in the middle of an NFL locker room,” Dobbs says. “And there were also the times I would be told to ‘be sure and dress appropriately and professionally,’ which is something I never heard a man be told to do. I remember responding to one person that had said that to me early on with, ‘Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I?’ ”

Dobbs mingled with the national press in the midst of a phenomenal 2007 season for her employer. The Cowboys finished the regular season with a conference-leading 13-3 record, and elbow-throwing tangles of reporters from near and far were common.

Dobbs adjusted quickly to the reality that she wasn’t allowed to coast with the same one-size-fits-all, Mad Libs-style questions as her male colleagues’. The feminine lilt of her voice was enough to perk the monotony-loving ears of the other reporters “in the scrum,” as Dobbs describes it.

Her questions, she noticed often, would be followed by plenty of turned heads.

“Even now, 12 years later,” she says. “There are times where I take a moment to be 100 percent sure that what I have to say or ask sounds the way I want it to say simply because I don’t know how it will be taken from a woman.”

Dobbs’ contract ended with the Cowboys’ season, but living in one of the nation’s largest media markets with plenty of pro sports options offered enough opportunity for the young reporter.

In 2008 she joined Fox Sports Southwest, where she threw herself into any role she could. Around this time, she even did some freelance work for Texas Motor Speedway. Dobbs began work as a producer for the Dallas Stars Insider show, while offering feature stories of her own. She began to co-host the Southwest Outdoors Report, a weekly fishing show.  

"I felt like I was in a weird dream that wasn’t my real life. It went beyond a feeling of shock.” – Dobbs

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But the work wasn’t as steady as she wanted. Three years out of college, Dobbs felt the need for some stability. She wasn’t giving up on her lifelong dream of landing a big-time broadcasting gig, but she did accept a job as a coordinator of the Dallas Stars Foundation in 2010, organizing community events and charitable efforts for the team. The work was a poor fit for her. She missed working in TV and covering sports, not simply working near sports. She moonlighted as a Texas Rangers field reporter for Friday night home games airing locally on TXA21, adding another sport to her repertoire.

She didn’t travel with the team, and it was far from the broadcast major leagues, but the infrequent Friday night gig was enough to make her feel as though she wasn’t letting anything pass her by. Dobbs rejoined Fox Sports as a freelancer in time for the 2011 hockey season, again producing the Stars Insider show.

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Julie Dobbs
Nathan Hunsinger

It Was All Just a Roller Coaster

“With everything I was doing for the Stars, I was on the cusp,” she says. “I was right there, just finally about to get the kind of job I had always wanted, and then it appeared.”

In late September 2013, Dobbs visited her doctor. She knew she was feeling ill, but she couldn’t fully describe how she felt to her then-boyfriend Kelly Forbes. Forbes was a young video coach for the Stars when he and Dobbs had begun dating a couple of years before. Eventually they would marry.

The first doctor Dobbs consulted suspected she had some sort of easily treated infection. To be safe, he wanted her to come back for a biopsy, but he couldn’t schedule it for another three weeks. Slightly rattled by the mere possibility of having cancer, Dobbs scheduled a biopsy with a different doctor the next day.

“I was 28, so the doctors weren’t thinking much about cancer,” she says.

The day after her biopsy at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Dobbs was gobsmacked with the news: triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer. Caused by a mutation of the BRCA2 gene, this type of cancer doesn’t reveal itself by forming detectable lumps or masses as more common types of breast cancer do.

“It didn’t feel real when I got the news,” she says. “My mom and I were sitting there in the doctor’s office when we got the news, and I felt like I was in a weird dream that wasn’t my real life. It went beyond a feeling of shock.”

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the average age for a woman diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer is 52. At about half that age, Dobbs was a young professional with a rosy life outlook that didn’t include it being grievously shortened by cancer.

The timing wasn’t helping matters either. The Stars hockey season was ready to begin, which meant another chance for her to establish her presence within the broadcast world as well as in front of the camera. But her cancer was an aggressive sort, and the fist-sized tumor required immediate attention.

In October 2013, she began a four-month string of chemotherapy treatments. Every other Wednesday, Dobbs endured sessions lasting between one and three hours. She came home from the first one and suffered the horrendous side effects common with chemo, but her reactions improved each session. With the NHL season in full swing, she and Forbes tried to schedule her treatments when he was in town, but Dobbs’ mother led a supportive group of women who stepped up regularly to help and lend emotional support.

“I did my best to take care of her and to listen to her,” Forbes says. “But there was a really special group of women that understood what she was going through and helped her too. Her mom was always there, and my mom, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer just the year before, and Becky Nill, the wife of (Stars general manager) Jim Nill, was also very supportive and also had cancer at that same time.”

After her cancer appeared to be gone, Forbes’ mother, Arlene, died after a second battle with the disease last January.

Even with the regular chemo infusions and the hair loss that came with it, Dobbs refused to take time off from work. With a custom wig, she continued to interview players for Stars Insider and finally got the chance to work as rink-side reporter for game broadcasts near the end of the 2013-14 season. If her cancer wasn’t going to keep her bosses from offering her new opportunities, she wasn’t going to let it get in the way either.

“I definitely had scary thoughts and some dark, low moments,” she recalls. “But I fought those feelings really hard. I Googled ‘inflammatory breast cancer’ and everything I read said I had, like, a 20% chance to survive, and there were all these scary stories, but I told myself that no one really knew what would happen to me, and because of that I couldn’t dwell on that sort of stuff.”

She found “a sort of therapy,” she says, by blogging about her time living with cancer. Her sunny outlook was evident. In November 2013, she wrote that a visit from some of her college buddies made her think, “If I didn’t have cancer, I wouldn’t have seen just how amazing people really can be.”

If enduring numerous, harsh chemo treatments while keeping a busy work schedule intact weren’t enough for Dobbs, she and Forbes became engaged in the middle of all this, with a summer 2014 wedding date. She was excited to have something to look forward to like a wedding to symbolize the beginning of a hopeful new chapter.

First, she would have a double mastectomy two months before the wedding. Though she considers April 7, 2014, to be the day she became “cancer free” thanks to the surgery, which included the removal of a dozen lymph nodes, Dobbs also received radiation treatments designed to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring.

Forbes says it was “a wild roller coaster,” but he and his new wife kept their eyes fixed on the big picture of their future and not on day-to-day setbacks. He credits Dobbs’ “determination and strength” for keeping things light and sunny in an ominous time.

“I think hers is a fascinating story of perseverance,” he says. “She wouldn’t let me get down about it, and her positivity made the whole thing feel more like a bump in the road rather than something that could’ve ruined everything.”

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Husband Kelly Forbes and Julie Dobbs with their children at home
Nathan Hunsinger

Another Surprise

With cancer in her rearview and a new husband, Dobbs was as set on making something happen in her career as she had ever been. The 2014-15 hockey season saw her take over full-time hosting duties for Stars Insider and become the full-time rink-side reporter, both roles she had only filled in for part time with Fox Sports Southwest before then. She would be in front of the camera more than ever.

With her hair still growing back after radiation treatments, she found out she and Forbes would soon become parents. Dobbs says the pregnancy “really came out of nowhere.” She had been told it would be difficult to conceive because the chemo treatments are often devastating to the ovaries.

Ryder Scott Forbes was born on June 25, 2015, just three days after the couple’s first wedding anniversary. In the span of two years, Dobbs had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, kept working her job without missing any time, underwent a double mastectomy, got married, earned a promotion at work and gave birth to a son she didn’t think she would be able to have.

Never was there any thought of reducing her workload, let alone stopping work. Friends and acquaintances would ask her how her schedule was going to change now that her son was here. “I wasn’t tapping out just because of the baby,” she says. “We knew we could do both — work and raise Ryder.”

With regular help from her mother, Ann, and a trusted babysitter, Dobbs returned to her full-time duties with Fox Sports Southwest for the 2015-16 Stars season, and for the first time in her career felt some semblance of stability in the tumultuous, competitive realm of sports media.

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Julie Dobbs had children despite battling breast cancer.
Nathan Hunsinger
Before the start of the 2017-18 NHL season, Fox announced it was eliminating Dobbs’ rink-side reporter position and would be going in another direction with the Stars Insider show she had been part of for eight seasons.

For once, the timing wasn’t too bad. She had just become pregnant with their second child, and on May 24, 2018, Juliet Arlene Forbes was born. While pregnant and unemployed, she enjoyed spending time at home with Ryder, but staying at home wasn’t sitting well with her.

She reached out to Sean Bass, sports director for The Ticket. After a couple of interviews, including one with program director Jeff Catlin, Dobbs was hired in October 2017 as a weekend reporter, offering regular “Ticket Ticker” segments. She was new to radio and new to an almost all-male crew.

Unlike Bass, Catlin didn’t know Dobbs personally before she interviewed for the position, though he was aware of her work with the Stars. As he normally does when hiring new talent, he asked her to write and record a few “demo Tickers,” and as he tells it, the decision to hire her was simple.

“Once I had those, I knew within 30 seconds she could do the job well,” Catlin says.

Her time as a weekend reporter didn’t last long. When the reporter position for the station’s two midday shows during the week opened up last summer, Dobbs gained a promotion. After five weeks of maternity leave, Dobbs assumed her spot in the station’s newsroom from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Radio personalities Norm Hitzges (left) and Donovan Lewis hang out with Julie Dobbs.
Nathan Hunsinger

Not Tapping Out

The “press box hot” imbroglio confirmed to her show mates she belonged and had established herself as more than a reader of scores.

As the chaotic segment continued with a flurry of nervous laughing, raised voices and pointed fingers, Dobbs held her ground as McDowell continued to insist there was “no way this happened!” Sturm, sensing the moment was swerving out of control, reset the table so that the listener could fully grasp the sharpness of the trap McDowell had stepped in. “This is awesome! So, when Dan had a chance to just call you ‘hot,’” he explained in between laughs. “He said you were only ‘press box hot’? What an awkward turn we took here!”

The users of The Ticket page on Reddit, passionate station fans who comment on what happens during the entire day, every day, were equally in shock. Redditor Nicole419 wrote “JuDo is awesome and I love that she blindsided Dan with this!” while frankgrimes1 added “she is gonna get Dan fired. #metoo.”

Kemp, the show’s producer and a frequent target of McDowell’s jokes, was out of town that afternoon, but thanks to the miracle of social media, he was enjoying the drama all the same.

“I knew she knew her stuff and would do the job well, but what I didn’t expect was how well she’d fit in with us." – Dan McDowell

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“It was almost funnier to hear about it through Twitter,” Kemp says. “Unlike with myself or Bob, it’s super hard to make Dan uncomfortable, and when I got back to the station and listened to the audio, it was super clear that Dan was very uncomfortable, which was awesome. I was pumping my fist, like, ‘Yes!’ ”

McDowell, not surprisingly, remembers things a different way. He says he’ll “go to his grave,” claiming that instead of calling her simply “press box hot,” he actually described her as “the press box hot,” meaning that Dobbs was a super attractive woman who just happened to be working in an area where few women often work. Kemp happily points out that commenting on a colleague’s physical attributes is never the best idea.

“It’s arguably worse to say that to a new co-worker,” he says with a laugh. “Working here we back ourselves into so many corners, but rarely does it ever happen like that. It was delicious.”

That Dobbs found herself on The Ticket is one thing, but that she ended up sharing space with McDowell has made her addition a bit more entertaining for loyal listeners. Any worries that a woman’s presence would cause the show to tamp down its caustic sense of humor or reduce the number of jokes that might land someone in the crosshairs of the #MeToo movement soon faded.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” McDowell says about when Dobbs joined the show. “I knew she knew her stuff and would do the job well, but what I didn’t expect was how well she’d fit in with us aside from doing the Tickers. Her comedic timing is great, and that’s not something you can teach. She’s like a sniper, just waiting in the weeds for the right moment to shoot.”

It would’ve been understandable had Catlin offered Dobbs’ new crew a word of caution about what they say around Dobbs, but she would’ve never asked for that, and Catlin knew that letting the personalities mesh naturally would get the best results. McDowell agrees. “No one’s tiptoeing around her,” he says.

Almost a year into her role as midday Ticker host, Dobbs routinely finds herself either jumping on the pile when someone flubs a line. That is, of course, when she’s not at the bottom of the pile-on after her own screw-up or misguided joke. It’s not that she’s “one of the guys.” She’s now simply one of the Ticket guys, who happens not to be a guy.

Kemp says another Dobbs-McDowell exchange stands as the time he knew the new woman needed no help making her own way in The Ticket boys club.

Each holiday season, a few days before Christmas, the members of BaD Radio each perform their own original holiday songs live on the air. Instead of going solo, the show’s odd couple teamed up for a hilarious, naughty take on the controversial Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Dobbs and McDowell traded lines about #MeToo, “going to HR” and how “a man has needs” as the rest of the crew cracked up with shocked laughter.

Whether it’s her husband, her new bosses or radio teammates, they each point to her unyielding positivity as the driving force for what makes Dobbs great. She’s spent a lifetime going up against some formidable foes by working as a woman, and eventually as a mother, in a male-dominated field, and even more daunting, by facing down life-threatening breast cancer.

“A lot of people assumed I would be done with my career when I had cancer,” she says. “And then when we had kids, people thought I would stop working, but that’s just not me. Why can’t I do it all? I’m not tapping out anytime soon.”