Monday, October 17, 2011

Sports Hub Sees and Hears Red

The Sports Hub 98.5 in Boston not only helped itself this past Friday (10/14) but helped sports radio in general. While a lot was understandably reported about the comments made by Red Sox owner John Henry about the team and certain players, there is more to the interview than even that.

The result was one of the most compelling segments ever for a sports radio station, and how well everyone involved handled it and followed up.

Even with friends and acquaintances in the business and working for sports radio stations around the country, I continue to suggest how and why sports radio needs to improve and keep working to gain or hold its audiences. The Boston Sports Hub story from Friday was an outstanding way to do just that.

It seems that Red Sox owner John Henry was listening to the Sports Hub in the car on Friday morning, and supposedly became upset about the callers and to some extent the hosts and how they were discussing the Red Sox' situation. (The team suffered a huge September collapse and failed to make the playoffs, to then lose their manager and general manager.) Mr. Henry was compelled enough to respond to the point of actually going to the Sports Hub studio and going on the air live with hosts Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti for close to a full hour.

First of all, this emphasizes a point I have been making for more than 30 years. The immediacy of radio compared with other forms of media. TV stations and networks could not have put the Red Sox owner on the air immediately and run with it for more than one hour, including a commercial break. This is especially important these days since fans have options online, via sports TV networks, and social media, to go to for breaking sports news just as much as radio.

Granted, it will remain an isolated incident that a team official, especially a major team owner, would actually go to a studio and be subject to going on live. But the station's handling of this was most worthy.

Felger and Massarotti did not "sweet talk" the interview, soften their stances, or only put callers on the air who would have something positive to say. The hosts asked about the, as it turned out, disappointing performance from Carl Crawford in the first year of a large contract. That Henry answered by admitting he was disappointed with Crawford is, from a media standpoint, secondary to the hosts asking such a direct question. And there were more questions just as direct from disappointed hosts, such as getting into the treatment of now ex-manager Terry Francona, making for compelling listening, especially for Red Sox fans.

As of press time, the station's web site still had podcasts of the two 30-minute plus segments available. Getting this interview created a ton of much deserved positive publicity for the Sports Hub. The station handled it well every step of the way, from putting Mr. Henry on the air to the follow up publicity to keeping the segments available online for days.

One more thing not to be overlooked. The Sports Hub is NOT the Red Sox flagship station. WEEI, the Sports Hub's rival for the local all sports radio audience, does carry the Red Sox. Yet, the team's owner was obviously listening to and then willingly went on the air on the Sports Hub. WEEI will be hard-pressed to top this one.

Another good idea is being continued by WGN Radio Chicago, even though WGN is not an all-sports station. (The station does carry Blackhawks hockey, Cubs baseball, Northwestern University football and basketball, and some night and weekend sports talk shows.)

As the Blackhawks' season began earlier this month, the station will be presenting six one-hour shows specific to the Blackhawks to air live from a local restaurant with a live audience asking questions of team officials and players. It will air once each month during the season as "Chicago Blackhawks Live", with the first one to be on Monday October 24th. Blackhawks President John McDonough will be among the guests on that show. Again, this is what sports radio stations need to bring us more of, over and above "Joe from the north side" constantly giving us his opinion and then on to another fan call.

Meanwhile, Fox TV Sports gets an amazing coincidence on Sunday (Oct. 23) when it brings viewers in many markets the NFL game between St. Louis and Dallas from Cowboys Stadium in its 4:15 ET late game window, and follows that with the World Series game from Dallas with the Rangers hosting St. Louis in nearby Arlington.

This comes the Sunday after Fox had St. Louis at Green Bay among its early regional NFL games, while TBS had the prime time NLCS matchup of St. Louis at Milwaukee.

MEMPHIS: WMC 790 surprised its listeners last week when it went from country music to an all sports format, including taking over some programming which had been airing on WMFS 680 and 92.9. Thus, within a matter of days, both 680 and 790 AM have new lineups and are sports radio.

WMC is now "Sports 790 AM" and carries Fox Sports Radio, including Zakk & Jack in the morning, Jim Rome middays, and "Loose Cannons" in the afternoon, along with Petros & Money at night.

WFMS now airs ESPN programming except for the local Eric Hasseltine Show from 1 to 4 PM on weekdays.

RICHMOND: ESPN 950's "Hardly Workin' with Greg Burton" show now has its last 2 hours (4 to 6 PM) also carried on WHAP 1340 Hopewell VA as of this week. Burton's show is now in its 8th year on 950 AM.

DAYTON: Fans of Mark Schlemmer, who was hosting a sports talk show on WONE 980 until this past summer, were shocked to learn (via the Daily News) that he is now homeless and broke, and dealing with prostate cancer and diabetes. The former University of Dayton baseball coach has also experienced a series of family setbacks.

SYRACUSE: The trend of TV simulcasts of sports radio shows comes to Syracuse as of this week. The "Upon Further Review Show" with Steve Infanti and Chris McManus, which airs from 3 to 6 PM on ESPN 97.7 and 100.1 now has its first two hours on TV. WSYR-TV's digital channel 9.2 now airs the first two hours live. It doesn't hurt that Infanti is also Sports Director of WSYR-TV.

DURHAM: On an upbeat note, congratulations to Duke Sports Radio Network's Bob Harris, who called his 400th football game this past Saturday (10/15). Harris has called Duke football since 1976.

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