Dan Snyder's Total Sports Talk Takeover
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's campaign to assert control over the coverage of his team in local media took a giant leap forward yesterday when his Redskins Radio took over its chief competitor, the region's longest running sports talk radio station, Sports Talk 980 (WTEM), now known as ESPN 980.
The takeover means a significant reduction in the amount and quality of sports talk on the radio in Washington. The new combined stations offer only seven hours a day of local sports talk, from noon to 7 p.m., strikingly less than what's available in every other top 10 market in the nation. Information and argument about local teams is the essence of sports talk radio, yet small-market stations and a few cheap large-market outlets cut costs and pipe in nationally syndicated fare from ESPN or Fox Sports. That programming can be both entertaining and info-packed, but it lacks the passion and glue that make this format one of the few in radio that is thriving and even growing.
(See list of stations below for details on how much time each of the sports talk stations in those cities devotes to local programming. To keep the comparisons fair, I looked at programming from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, the 13 hours that by far attract the largest audience and the overwhelming majority of the stations' efforts.)
But the Snyder operation is even farther behind its national peers if you look at the full 24 hours of the broadcast day. Most of the stations on the list below have local talk in the evenings when they are not broadcasting baseball, basketball or other play-by-play coverage. Washington's sports talker has no local talk in the evenings.
In addition, it will be interesting to see how the new station's obvious deep commitment to the Redskins alters the menu of sports being discussed during the local shows, which are mainly holdovers from the old Clear Channel-owned WTEM (John Thompson, Doc Walker, and The Sports Reporters with Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin, a mainstay of WTEM since its birth in 1992.) The new management killed off the station's only baseball show, with Phil Wood, which the Washington City Paper called the city's "best radio show."
Washington is now the rare big market city to have but one sports talk station. For now, at least, Snyder's company plans to run the same programming on all four of its AM and FM sports outlets--the three weak suburban signals on which he started Redskins Radio, and WTEM. Snyder picks up the rights that Clear Channel had to Washington Wizards games, as well as to Baltimore Orioles baseball broadcasts.
Snyder also bought two non-sports AM outlets from Clear Channel, the lefty political talker WWRC (1260) and the righty political talker WTNT (570), on which Clear Channel often put Orioles games when they conflicted with Wizards games on either shoulder of the baseball season. The new management will face similar conflicts come early fall, when baseball playoff coverage from ESPN could bump up against Redskins coverage.
Curiously, there is no mention of the Wizards broadcasts on the Snyder stations' home page, though a letter to listeners does acknowledge that the Wizards are part of the station's package.
In that letter, ESPN 980's vice president for operations, Dennis Glasgow, says the station is open to changing its lineup if fan demand points in another direction. "I'm sure more changes will come but they will come with the intention of making us bigger and better," he writes. "Time will tell of course. We're not afraid to make changes, but we're also not afraid to say when we were wrong, and we count on you to help us with that."
In a region whose fans lead the NFL in attendance (by far), boast the second-best attendance in Major League Soccer, and land squarely in the middle in baseball (17th of 30 teams this season despite the worst record in the sport), NBA basketball (15th of 30 teams), and WNBA women's hoops (eighth of 14 teams), there's every reason to believe this market would support a round-the-clock, top-shelf sports talk station. (Among local franchises, only the Caps are in the bottom third of their league in attendance, ranking 24th of hockey's 30 teams.)
Clearly, there is room for another sports talk operation in town. Longstanding rumors that CBS would switch its FM talker, WJFK (106.7), to a sports format have so far proven false, and efforts by Bonneville's 3WT (1500 AM and 107.7 FM)--which carries Nationals baseball, Capitals hockey, Navy football and George Washington University basketball play-by-play--to grab onto more sports coverage have so far not been accompanied by any significant move into sports talk.
Here's the list. (All programming schedules are per the stations' own web sites. Top 10 markets are defined by Census Bureau population statistics.
New York's ESPN Radio: Seven of 13 hours are local, plus ESPN's morning show is based in New York and covers New York teams closely.
New York's The Fan: All local, 24/7--probably the only such sports talker in the country.
Los Angeles's KLAC: Seven hours of local content; Dan Patrick and Jim Rome in the morning.
Chicago's ESPN 1000: Eight hours of local content vs. five hours of syndicated fare, including parent ESPN's Mike and Mike in the morning.
Chicago's The Score: All local, all day, with Dan Patrick and Sporting News fare late nights.
Houston's The Sports Animal: All local content, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Houston's KILT: All local except for Jim Rome's midday show from Fox.
Houston's The Ticket: Local for four hours each afternoon; ESPN programming the rest of the day.
Philadelphia's WIP: All local, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Philly's 950 ESPN: Eight of 13 hours are local, with ESPN's Mike and Mike in AM drive and Mike Tirico at midday.
San Francisco's KNBR: All local, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Atlanta's The Zone: All local (and the station's afternoon show, 2 Live Stews, is now syndicated to more than 20 stations around the nation.)
Atlanta's The Fan: Eight hours of local content, with ESPN's Colin Cowherd and Mike Tirico in midday and local morning and afternoon drive time shows.
Miami's WQAM: All local.
Detroit's The Fan: All local--10 of 13 hours--except Jim Rome middays.
Detroit's The Ticket: All local, all day.
As you can see, in almost every big city market, there is a leading sports talk station that is all local, all the time, and there's generally a secondary station that goes the cheap route, picking up syndicated programming from ESPN or Fox. Washington uniquely has only a secondary station, with no outlet devoting the time and money it takes to put out a full roster of local programming.
By Marc Fisher |
July 22, 2008; 8:04 AM ET
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