May 11, 2005
Lets talk about sports radio
By TOM WILLIAMS
Sports radio stations are popping up all over the country. With three major networks – ESPN Radio, Fox
Sports Radio and Sporting News Radio – supplying most of the programming, at least one station in
almost every market has switched to the sports talk format. In addition, all three networks are available
online and through satellite radio.
At its best, sports radio can be great. Unfortunately, too many times it seems to create a monotony that
can turn off fans.
The centerpieces of sports coverage are the games. When sports radio supplies play-by-play of the games,
live reports from the scene, previews of the action, interviews with the participants and post-game coverage,
it is at its best.
When fans have to listen to week-long analysis of Randy Moss’ faux mooning of Green Bay fans or Allen
Iverson missing another practice, it can quickly become very annoying.
Producers are hollering in the headphones of their hosts, encouraging them to get controversial. You have
to consider the possibility that many times these hosts voice opinions they don’t actually believe. Anything
to fill the three hours and stimulate repetitive phone calls.
There are exceptions to this approach.
Tony Bruno, who started on WIP, moved to ESPN Radio, then on to Fox Sports Radio – is as good as it
gets. He is now doing mornings in Los Angeles and can be heard on Sporting News Radio.
James Brown (Sporting News) is a quality broadcaster, exceptional in bringing the sports newsmakers on
the air and eliminating the rumors and the middlemen. J.T. The Brick (Fox), heard late at night as the
games are ending, does some post-game interviews and deals very effectively with listener’s calls as they
react to the night’s results. And Dan Patrick (ESPN) uses his SportsCenter sarcasm and access to the
newsmakers to entertain during midday.
Locally, sports fans can choose over the air between WIP from Philadelphia, which occasionally ventures
off track with “man talk”, when as much conversation centers on the latest Playmate of the Month as the
latest standings or results; WFAN in New York, as good a sports station as there is, but with the focus on
the Mets, Jets and Knicks, more than the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers; and ESPN-1450, a network affiliate
in Atlantic City with a new locally-originated afternoon show and some play-by-play.
There was another local sports station, 1490-THE GAME, until about two months ago, which featured a
great deal of play-by-play. But in a community with a history of not supporting its teams – the Surf, the
Bullies, the Seagulls, etc. - why would we expect enough support for two sports radio stations? Quite
simply, the station with the best sales effort has survived.
It was just over two months ago – at about 5:30 on March 8th – when 1490-THE GAME changed its format.
It happened when play-by-play of the Ocean City-Camden South Jersey boys basketball final ended. One
moment fans were listening to a championship game, the next moment it was Jackson T. Chase
introducing the Bee Gees. Management had decided to simulcast KOOL-98.3 on 1490 (though the station
continues to carry Surf broadcasts).
It was reminiscent of the end of ESPN-1490 a few years earlier, when the infamous Man from Iowa
changed the format to gospel music right in the middle of play-by-play of the NCAA Final Four. This time,
manager John Ford’s timing deprived area fans of scheduled play-by-play of Holy Spirit’s girl-boy
doubleheader in the South Jersey basketball finals, live coverage of Atlantic City’s first-ever boys state
basketball championship and of Absegami’s first-ever state girls hoop title. All would have earned the
station a profit and served the community but were discarded, without discussion, in order to hurry the
transition to oldies programming already being heard in the area.
But, radio is a business. It was originally designed to serve the public and, in some cases, it still does.
But out-of-market group ownership has made the bottom line far too important.
With three quite different sports stations available in this market, area fans still have a clear choice. There
is also sports programming on other stations. A locally-originated Friday night talk show on WOND-1400,
high school and other play-by-play on the Coastal stations (98.7-THE COAST and OLDIES 94) and Jim
Quinn’s coverage of high school football and basketball on Cumberland County radio. There are also online
choices and the satellite radio options.
The coverage of Cape-Atlantic League sports that you heard on 1490-THE GAME the past year will be
heard again starting in September. In this area, that is local sports. A good high school football game will
draw a larger crowd than the Surf or the Bullies and fans are far more interested in the outcome. And this
area has become the focus for high school basketball showcases.
Enjoy your favorite sports radio programming. At its best, sports radio can serve the community’s needs,
entertain and inform.
Read more of
Tom Williams' columns