Listener: The New Redskins Radio
Here's today's Listener column from the Sunday Arts section:
At first glance, Bennett Zier's mission seems impossible.
In a city where the only sports talk radio station languishes at the bottom of the ratings, Zier is charged with launching a second sports talker. To do the job, he's been given three Spanish-language stations that have some of the weakest signals in town.
But Zier's start-up, known only by its corporate name, Red Zebra, will sign on in a couple of weeks with one huge advantage: its owner. Red Zebra is something new in the annals of American sports -- a radio operation owned by the same guy who owns the primary sports team the station will cover, Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins.
Not only will Red Zebra broadcast Redskins games, but the station also will devote a large chunk of its talk programming to the team, around the clock, all year long.
"For the listeners, it's going to be like belonging to a club," says Zier, who came to Red Zebra from Clear Channel, where he was regional vice president in charge of the radio giant's eight Washington stations (including WTEM, the sports talker that Zier created in 1992). "The Redskins are the dominant, number-one attraction in this area, and we will have excellent access to Redskins news. Whenever there's breaking news, the listeners won't want to miss a minute."
In addition to winning ESPN Radio's nationally syndicated programming away from WTEM (980 AM), Red Zebra is planning local talk shows featuring Redskins Hall of Famer John Riggins and former WTEM talker Bram Weinstein. The Redskins station will use ESPN's morning show, "Mike and Mike," and the midday talk show hosted by Dan Patrick, both of which formerly aired on WTEM.
But the core of Red Zebra's appeal will be its access to news about the Redskins. Zier says he trusts that his station will get first crack at player news, next-game planning and other information about the team before word gets to media outlets not controlled by the Redskins. But Zier vehemently rejects the notion that Redskins radio will be beholden to team management's views about what the franchise is doing right or wrong.
"When people see some of the talent that we'll have on the air, they will recognize we are putting on people so they can say what they feel," Zier says. "We will have an exciting, sometimes controversial, radio station. I said to Dan Snyder, how are you going to feel when our reporters and hosts speak their mind? Am I all of a sudden going to get a call from Redskins Park? And he said never, and in all my time at WTEM, he never picked up the phone."
Zier says the radio station will have close ties to Redskins.com, the team's innovative Web site. The Redskins have been among the most aggressive sports franchises in creating their own media empire, setting up a TV studio at Redskins Park in Ashburn and producing team-owned TV shows that air on three local channels.
Managers at competing radio stations say they are indeed worried that the Redskins will funnel news to their own station, but the competitors also see an advantage in being able to tout their independence from the team.
But before listeners can judge Red Zebra's ability to provide critical coverage of its owner's team, they will have to find the station, which will be known on the air as Redskins Radio and another name, yet to be announced. The new programming will be on three Washington area frequencies, 92.7 and 94.3 FM and 730 AM, all of which now serve Spanish speakers with pop music and talk.
Snyder bought the three stations for $33 million from Mega Communications, but the two FM stations are located on the fringes of the Washington area and their signals barely reach inside the Beltway. The AM signal is stronger closer to town, but only during the day; at night it is barely audible even near its transmitter.
There is rampant speculation that Red Zebra is working on deals to put Redskins radio on other local stations with stronger signals. But Zier says no additional Washington stations will be added to the roster this season. Eventually, "we want to acquire as many signals as the FCC will allow," Zier says. "We're not done buying radio stations." Red Zebra recently bought an AM sports talk station in Richmond.
Clear Channel's sports talk station, WTEM, has been forced into a rebuilding mode now that Red Zebra has acquired ESPN's programming. WTEM has also suffered the loss of its most popular talk host, Tony Kornheiser, who's moving to ESPN's "Monday Night Football." So far, WTEM seems to be leaning toward more local sports talk, with former Redskins running back Brian Mitchell taking over the midday slot. The station will also rely more heavily on syndicated programs from Fox Sports.
WTEM and its corporate sisters, WTNT (570 AM) and WWRC (1260 AM), offer play-by-play of Wizards basketball, Capitals hockey, Orioles baseball, Mystics women's basketball, and several local colleges' basketball and football games.
Red Zebra has made unannounced deals with at least two local colleges and hopes to add more play-by-play programming, Zier says. Sources close to the Washington Nationals say the baseball team is in talks with Red Zebra about moving its broadcasts from Washington Post Radio (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) to the Redskins station next year; a decision could come as early as next week.
"A good sports talk station really relies on its hosts and talk shows," Zier says, "but baseball is something that sounds great on the radio and it would fit in very well here."
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Vincent | July 2, 2006 2:33 PM
Posted by: Joe | July 2, 2006 9:40 PM
Posted by: Kalorama Kat | July 3, 2006 7:36 AM
Posted by: KP | July 5, 2006 3:48 PM
Posted by: NVick | July 7, 2006 9:46 PM
Posted by: Everett W. | July 8, 2006 7:54 PM
Posted by: Christopher | July 10, 2006 9:33 AM
Posted by: tiaraharper | July 14, 2006 10:57 AM
Posted by: tiaraharper | July 14, 2006 10:57 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.